Daringly enough, this leftist sympathizing political drama was made during the remaining days of the rightist Colonels' regime. It is one of those extra long (230 minutes) and slowly paced films, that is a chore to stay tuned into. One deserves to get a C in Audience 101, for just remaining awake while watching it. It doesn't help that the characters are not appealing and do not draw us into their story. The thing here is history as mixed in with the loose telling of Aeschylus' Oresteia tragedies--characters are even named Orestes, Electra, and Chrysothemis. Its lesson in modern Greek history goes from 1936-1952, as a travelling actor troupe performs a single folk play, Golfo the Shepherdess, in different towns all over Greece. We see them in towns that appear to be shabby and depressing, as the years keep changing, as does the political climate. The times are torn with Nazis, WW2, Axis Occupation, civil war (between the Right and Left wings), British Occupation, and the impending election of Marshal Papagos, representing a military monarchist regime. He is the one who defeated the Left Wing during the civil war. Things certainly look glum; the only cheer comes from the actors, as they are transported through the far-out regions of Greece and sing their rhythmic songs of freedom, love, and sadness with a dignity and verve that enraptures the film in a very moving mood. You can feel the pulse of the times through the music and realize that big events are happening to the people of Greece.
The film assumes a lot for a foreign audience viewing it, that they would be knowledgable about Greek political happenings and of the Greek tragedies and of its history. The modern Greek history of betrayal, revenge, and redemption are both the subtle and underlying themes of the story, as seen through the eyes of the weary acting troupe. The film begins in 1952, in the town of Aegion, where the acting troupe visited last in 1939. The actors get caught up in the political manifestations themselves, as the film traces what happened to the troupe in the past; the wife of the troupe's leader takes a Fascist lover and has a bastard child, while the husband is a leftist and goes off to fight in the war. Their son Orestes is being buried in 1952, after he became a rebel soldier who died in prison. In the most moving scene of the film, the actors bury him and as he is buried start applauding him for the life he lived; it is as if they were saying, what a performance you gave in life.
Most of the film was unfortunately not as stimulating and was too trying a task to follow in all its different kind of historical rejoinders, even though this is a worthy film, visually bringing real life into focus in a way that is unique and psychologically absorbing. There is no doubt about it, this is a Theo Angelopoulos film, not relying on cohesiveness of plot or dialogue to tell its story for the record of history. His camera moves around for many different and enticing angle shots but his takes go on forever, touching every little gesture and staying with them for minutes at a time without any action taking place, making the film a very difficult watch for most non-Greeks.
The highly stylized scene in a restaurant-bar, best caught the feelings of the two opposing sides in the civil war and of those who just tried to remain neutral. The leftist were unarmed, seemed jovial, and danced with their women; while the rightist all wore their hats with the brim covering their eyes and danced with the men, and fired their guns in the air. They were the menacing winners. The neutrals just tried to please those in charge at the time, and were represented by the entertainers, who switched songs, playing what was favored by those in charge.
Theo Angelopoulos is a great filmmaker, but this first feature of his to achieve international recognition is not a great film as much as it is a vital telling about political intrigue. It is a film that is relevant; a good peek at modern Greece and how it is politically divided. It is a chance to see how overreaching and meddling the British and the Americans are seen by the Greek left. It is, also, the story of the Communist's failure to gain control of the country, and the implications there are for a state that stays in power by suppressing its people. My hat is off to anyone who can say they were enthralled with this entire film, not the pieces of it here and there like I was.