(The Travelling Players)
Director: Theodoros Angelopoulos
Production: Giorgos Papalios; colour, 35mm; running time: 230 minutes. Distribution in the USA: New Yorker Films.
Producer: Giorgos Papalios; screenplay: Theodorous Antgelopoulos; photography: Giorgos Arvanitis; editors: Takis Davlopoulos and Giorgos Trantafiliou; production design: Mikes Karapiperis; music: Lukianos Kiliadonis with Fotos Lambrinos, Nena Mejdi, Dimitri Kamberidis, and Kostas Messaris.
Cast: Eva Kotamanidou ( Electra ); Aliki Georgoulis ( Mother ); Stratos Pachis ( Agamemnon ); Maris Vassiliou ( Clytemnestra ); Vangelis Kazan ( Aegisthos ); Petros Zarkadis ( Orestes ); Kiriakos Katrivanos ( Piladis ); Grigoris Evangelatos ( Poet ).
Awards: FIPRESCI Prize, Best Film Award, Cannes Film Festival, 1975; Best Film in "Forum," Berlin Film Festival, 1975; Salonika Festival, Greek Critics' Association, Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress, 1975; Italian Critics Association, Best Film in the World for 1970–80, 1979.
Angelopoulos, Theodoros, O Thiasos , Themelio, 1975.
Arecco, Sergio, Anghelopoulos , La Nuova Italia, Florence, 1978.
Estève, Michel, Theo Angelopoulos , Paris, 1985.
Ciment, Michel, and Héléne Tierchant, Theo Angelopoulos , Paris, 1989.
Kolovos, Nikos, Theodoros Angelopoulos , Athens, 1990.
Jacobsen, Wolfgang, Theo Angelopoulos , Munich, 1992.
Horton, Andrew, Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation , Princeton, 1997.
Horton, Andrew, editor, Late Modernist: The Films of Theo Angelopoulos , Westport, 1997.
Tarr, Susan, and Hans Proppe, " The Travelling Players : A Modern Greek Masterpiece," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), Summer 1975.
Pappas, P., "Culture, History and Cinema: A Review of The Travelling Players ," in Cineaste (New York), Winter 1976–77.
Horton, Andrew, "O Thiasos: The Most Original and Important Film of 1975," Pilgrimage , April 1976.
Horton, Andrew, " O Thiasos: Not So Much a Film as an Experience," Athenian , October 1977.
Horton, Andrew, "Theodoros Angelopoulos and the New Greek Cinema," Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), Fall 1981.
Wilmington, M., "Angelopoulos: The Power and The Glory," in Film Comment (New York), Winter 1990.
Angelopoulous, Theo, and Sylvie Rollet, "En guise de prologue: Les voyage des comédiens ," in Positif (Paris), no. 383, January 1993.
Pigoullie, J. -F., " Le voyage des comédiens ," in Télérama (Paris), no. 2244, 13 January 1993.
Alberto, P., and others, in Nosferatu (San Sebastian), vol. 24, May 1997.
* * *
A young man in a uniform walks onto a stage during a performance and murders an older woman and man. The two actually die on stage. The curtain closes as the audience applauds wildly.
The moment takes place more than half way through Angelopoulos's third feature, O Thiasos , and in this one tightening of a narrative strand which until then had seemed quite loose and desperate, we see drama, history, myth, and personal destinies cross paths. For the young man is Orestes, an actor and young communist in northern Greece during World War II, and the woman and man he has killed are his mother, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthos, who betrayed his father, Agamemnon, to the Nazis who executed him.
At almost four hours in length and as a non-chronological investigation of Greek history during the troubled period l939 to 1952, O Thiasos ( The Travelling Players ) might seem an unlikely film to be considered by many as the most important Greek film ever made, and one of the most significant films shot anywhere in the first 100 years of cinema's appearance.
When it appeared in Greece in l975, Angelopoulos's poetic historical epic was seen by more Greeks than any other Greek film before it. Angelopoulos has his own distinctive cinematic style, but the immediate appeal to Greeks was the content: he dared to present a Marxist left-wing vision of modern Greek history, including the very painful Civil War of l945–49 in which almost one million Greeks died. No filmmaker before him had dared to do so. Immediately his film became part of a national discourse in a way in which few films have. "The reason that O Thiasos has had a tremendous impact in Greece," wrote an editor of Athenian at the time of its release, "is its presentation of a view of events which has been stifled, rarely discussed in polite company, and ignored in official accounts of history." In short, the film suggests what historians such as Dominique Eudes and others have detailed, that many Greeks who were not necessarily communist, worked with the Partisans to help liberate Greece from the Germans and then continued to side with the communists because they were even more disenchanted by right wing monarchists who catered more often to foreign interests than to the needs of the people.
With the release of the film in Europe shortly after, O Thiasos swiftly became a cult film for cineastes from London to Rome and around Eastern Europe as well as a favourite for left-wing filmmakers concerned with how to represent "history" on screen successfully without become either too didactic or over simplified. (The appreciation of Angelopoulos's work was much slower in developing, but with the Museum of Modern Art Retrospective of his films in l992, critical and public interest began to grow.) Bertolucci in Italy, for instance, claimed that his study of Italian history in 1900 (1977) was directly influenced by Angelopoulos's epic. And at the end of the decade of the l970s, Italian critics went as far as to vote O Thiasos the most important film in the world for the whole decade.
Angelopoulos appeared in the late l960s as the most talented among a new generation of Greek filmmakers who ironically came of age cinematically under the difficult restrictions of the military Junta's rule (1967–74). Having studied film in Paris, Angelopoulos was, like many of his generation, influenced by a variety of "foreign" sources including Japanese cinema, East European models, the French New Wave, and Italian neo-realism. And yet Angelopoulos set out clearly to explore what he has called "the Other Greece" that Greece itself and the outside world had never seen. This "Other" Greece Angelopoulos observes is clearly much more "Balkan" than Mediterranean, full of towns and villages becoming depopulated by the changes in modern history, neither fully living in the 20th century or in the past, heavily influenced by a legacy of 400 years under Turkish rule and not sure that any future exists. Angelopoulos's characters are most often shot as stationary figures in grey winter landscapes rather than as passionate lovers, dancers, and warriors seen in Michael Cacoyannis's Zorba the Greek. Angelopoulos intertwines Greek myth and history in provocative ways. The travelling players are a troupe of actors wandering the small towns and villages of northern Greece performing a simple melodrama about a shepherd girl, "Golfo." But their drama is constantly interrupted by "history" as the Italians invade in l939, followed shortly after by the Nazis, and, after the war, by the Civil War itself. The final "invasion" is seen to be that of the American influence on Greece. Yet the actions and characters are reflected off an ancient mythical heritage as we learn the individual troupe members are named Electra, Orestes, and Aegisthos as we have already seen. We are thus invited to consider the parallels and differences between these modern representatives of the Oresteia trilogy of Aeschylus.
Angelopoulos offers no simplistic "update" or direct one-on-one correspondence between ancient myths and modern realities. In fact, he forces us to consider how different modern history has become from the reality of ancient drama and myth. No gods enter the scene in O Thiasos. Instead we see a family and a troupe torn apart by political divisions as some choose to join partisan communist forces both during World War II and during the Civil War that followed, while others, especially, Aegisthos, the "traitor," become collaborators with the Germans and with right wing forces after the war.
Beyond the content, however, is Angelopoulos's striking visual style.
He champions the long take shot in long distance. At a time when film, video, and television have converged to offer audiences faster and faster editing as seen especially on music videos and television commercials, Angelopoulos has turned to a more poetic and meditative cinema through the haunting camera work of Giorgos Arvanitis, with whom he has worked his entire career. One tracking shot, for instance, in O Thiasos follows a group of left-wing protesters down the street of a Greek town. But in that single shot lasting over six minutes, three different time periods are captured, suggesting visually, therefore, the link of "protest" which bridges time.
His framing in long shots also helps to de-dramatize each scene. In many ways, Angelopoulos's art is that of what he leaves out: extreme violence, passion, conflict. He also breaks up any possibility of smooth Hollywood styled linear narrative or character development by having the characters turn from time to time to the camera and deliver long monologues as if they have known us well some other time, some other place. When Agamemnon is betrayed (as in the myth and drama), he is taken before a Nazi firing squad. But before he dies, he faces the camera in close up and explains who he is, ending with the simple question, "And who are you?" We then cut to an extreme long shot on a grey winter morning as he is shot dead and crumples to the ground. As in the whole epic, this moment asks us to consider a life rather than observe a bloodbath using the conventions of cinematic war violence.
Finally, Angelopoulos's epic is a cyclical one. We begin and end with the travelling players, travelling. They are standing, suitcases in hand, at the same train station in the opening and in the closing of the film, yet the difference in years is significant: the opening shot is in l952, after the war and the Civil War, while the closing shot is l939, poised just before these momentous changes take place.
We have ended at the beginning and must leave the cinema asking ourselves if history merely repeats itself or if such an inverted circle suggests any possibility of advancement. Twenty years after the release of this landmark film, we still respond to the beauty and warnings enclosed in Angelopoulos's haunting text.