Palme d’Or of the Cannes Film Festival with Eternity and a day, in 1998, Théo Angelopoulos is one of the most important Greek filmmakers. His works are deeply imprinted with the history of his country, which he went through from 1935 to 2012. He accidentally died in the midst of the “Greek crisis”, struck down by a motorcycle while he was filming. His latest film, The Other Sea, will therefore remain unfinished. But all the others bear the mark of the issues that have constantly preoccupied him: ideologies and utopia, borders, the passage of time … The suspended step of the stork (1991), The Gaze of Ulysses (1995), Eternity and a day (1998), The Dust of Time (2008) … to name a few of the films.
Writer, author of radio documentaries and journalist, Yorgos Archimandritis conducted a series of interviews with the filmmaker, broadcast on France Culture in 2009. They are now published by Actes Sud under the title Théo Angelopoulos – Time suspended. Theo Angelopoulos is told there, with this sense of the story which belongs to him, mixing anecdote and analysis, small and big history. On the eve of the commemoration of his death, Yorgos Archimandritis grants Marianne an interview in which he delivers his vision of Théo Angelopoulos, what he brought to his generation, but also his perspective on Greece and France.
Marianne : Why did you choose to produce and then publish this series of interviews with Théo Angelopoulos?
Yorgos Archimandritis : In my books and the series of interviews that I carry out, all the people have, it seems to me, something essential to tell: Mikis Theodorakis, Mélina Mercouri… Their life is very rich and their trajectories question: what what shaped them? How did they become what they are? What can they teach us? Of course, our country, our culture, play a decisive role in the life of each of us. But a creator manages to develop, with the instruments of his art, a completely personal aesthetic and psychic topos. And when, moreover, this place, this new world, manages to express the concerns of the human being, its author becomes universal. This is, in my opinion, the case with Théo Angelopoulos.
That is to say ?
In his work, we see personal destiny mingling with collective destiny. This is where the story comes in. His own injuries, his mourning, the first deaths of his family, the arrest of his father to be executed, are all elements that enter into fiction. The “little story” becomes “the big story”. This interplay between individual history and collective history is fascinating. Because your traumas, your sufferings lead you to see the world and life differently. They are a remedy against oblivion; they form memory. And in the case of an author like Angelopoulos, they bring rare breadth, depth and intensity to his work and his vision of the world.
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This story is also that of a Greece divided under the civil war or the dictatorship of the colonels, to name just two examples. These injuries seem fundamental for Théo Angelopoulos. Is this still the case today for you and your generation?
These injuries are different for Theo Angelopoulos’ generation and mine. His generation lived through these divisions, these conflicts. She participated in it and suffered from it. Mine, for its part, received the echo of this division. There is still in Greece a structuring bipolarization between the right and the left as it existed in Europe some forty years ago. As long as the witnesses of this time, of the civil war and of the dictatorship of the colonels, are alive, the echo of this division remains alive. My uncle, for example, who was a Communist with Soviet tendencies and was persecuted for this, still sticks to his ideas of yesteryear. But others, like the great Greek poet Titos Patrikios, who was also part of the KKE [Parti communiste grec, NDLR] and was also forced into exile, judged that it was necessary to get out of this ideology and distanced himself from it.
Moreover, Theo Angelopoulos evokes the belief in socialism, its fall, and the vacuum thus left. He asks: “Filling it is not easy. Especially fill it with what? “
Great ideals give an incredible breath: they nourish us with energy in our desire to change the world. In this, they help us. But when all of a sudden these pillars of our mental and social structure collapse, emptiness arises. Ideologies are a form of religion that we choose for the strength and support they give us. Like religion in other centuries, ideology in the 20th century nourished social, philosophical, art and culture thought. Times of great crisis too, such as world wars, have created a need for expression of extraordinary strength. The poetry of Yannis Ritsos or that of Louis Aragon were nourished by the impetus of their ideology. Théo Angelopoulos has taken the height of all this and has managed to look at the world with an eye that is both bruised and benevolent.
“To be able to make his film The travel of the actors, in the midst of the colonels’ dictatorship, he was forced to circumvent the obstacles of censorship by finding tricks. ”
Does this show through in these films?
In all his films, there is almost no joy but a sadness, a disappointment, the feeling of being helpless in the face of history repeating itself. These films are also the expression of a quest. As a director, he follows his heroes in their quest for an ideal, in a wandering, a search, a crossing of borders. Moreover, two other questions are fundamental for Théo Angelopoulos: that of borders and that of “home”. Its quest is therefore both ideological and existential. It is supported by two cinematographic elements which contribute to making the specificity of its films. On the one hand, the colors, developed with its director of photography, Yorgos Arvanitis: ochres, tone on tone, grays, blacks, which give a pictorial dimension to the filmed scenes. On the other, the music of the composer Eleni Karaindrou, made up of long, majestic musical phrases, which fully embrace the spirit of this quest.
Was he also an actor in Greek history?
Yes ! Like many other left-wing Greek artists, he experienced the deprivation of freedom of speech, he lived in exile. Moreover, he had to flee Greece following the events of the Polytechnic school [la révolte des étudiants qui a eu lieu le 17 novembre 1973 et qui accélère le mouvement de protestation contre la junte, NDLR.] To be able to make his film The travel of the actors, in the midst of the colonels’ dictatorship, he was forced to circumvent the obstacles of censorship by finding tricks. He thus established codes of communication with his public which were not understandable by the dictatorial regime.
France was his refuge, as for many Greeks who fled during the civil war or the junta. What did France represent for them?
What it still represents for the Greeks and is part of its identity: freedom, democracy, the Enlightenment! For those who look at French culture with an external eye, France is the country that has best deployed the democracy, invented in ancient Greece. For us, she is the embodiment of all these ideals. And then, France and Greece have often moved forward in common. Two centuries ago, France aided Greece in its war of liberation against the Ottomans. She also contributed in the development of the national and cultural identity of modern Greece.
Moreover, until the end of his life, Théo Angelopoulos returned to Paris …
Paris was for him the Court of miracles to which Victor Hugo alludes in Notre Dame of Paris. It was the French language, writers and the discovery of cinema. When he came to Paris very young, to earn a little money, he cut tickets to the Cinémathèque. Thus, he saw all the masterpieces of cinema from all over the world. France, for the Greeks, is the best embodiment of culture. No country in the world places such importance on artistic creation and its protection. This is also what worked as a magnet for the Greek artists and intellectuals who came to this country. A dialogue was established between their own culture, this authentic and flourishing Hellenism, and the splendours of the French spirit.
Théo Angelopoulos died while shooting his last film, in the midst of the Greek crisis. What do you think of this crisis?
I do not agree with the use of the word “crisis”. A crisis means that things were good before and that for various reasons they are deteriorating. However, what people commonly call the crisis for Greece is only the revelation of reality. Since the early 1980s, the country had lived beyond its means. Much of Greek society lived under the illusion of a prosperity that cannot be true in a country without a solid economic base. However, what has been called a “crisis” is the awareness by the Greek governments and Europe of this reality and the taking of strict measures to face it. Unfortunately with the application of these measures, the pre-existing problems worsened and mainly affected retirees, employees and the most disadvantaged social strata. While they did not participate in this illusory prosperity, they suffered the consequences.
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Moreover, Theo Angelopoulos evokes the “low period” that Greece is going through and says: “It’s like we’re in a big waiting room with a big closed door in front of us. We wait for it to open without knowing what will come out… ”
In reality, this ties in with the fall of the ideologies that we have already mentioned. Since this fall, according to him, we are going through, historically, a transitional period. And when I ask him what the new utopias will be, he repeats, almost disarmed: “I don’t know …”
In all the interviews, the question of memory and forgetting appears in the background. Is the publication of this book a work of memory?
Absoutely. I wanted to leave a trace of these precious documents, to transmit the thought of Théo Angelopoulos, his way of seeing the world, his philosopher of life, his artistic vision, his testimony on the history of Greece and Europe, on this division which crossed us for a long time and which now, I believe, is coming to an end.
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We want to give thanks to the writer of this write-up for this remarkable material
Yorgos Archimandritis: “Théo Angelopoulos is a universal author”