Apart from the distinctive
American and Russian traditions of the 'hunger and thirst'
theme, a striking example occurs in Angelopoulos's first
international success. Spanning fifteen years of Greek
history, the film's core is the misery of World War II and its
aftermath. One remarkable scene sums up the the wartime
experience of famine. The starving actors close in slowly on
a solitary chicken seen on a snow-covered slope: as the New
York Times critic wrote: Angelopoulos ' has filmed hunger.'
Angelopoulos, born in Athens in 1936, is a film-maker
who refuses compromise. The slow pace and austere style
of his work are utterly against current trends, and the
content is invariably as formidably intellectual as it
is emotional and poetic. He is, to put it bluntly, not
everybody's idea of a good night out. At his best,
however, he is unquestionably a master. And only the
fact that he so obviously knows it renders that fact
Now finally invested with the Palme d'Or at Cannes - a prize
he has coveted for years, even to the extent of making a
churlish speech when he was offered the runner's-up award -
Angelopoulos seems content to allow history to judge his work.
It will certainly judge The Travelling Players (O Thiassos) a
It was filmed in Greece in 1974, at no small risk, under the
hard-line rule of the Greek colonels' junta. Why the military
police who watched its progress allowed it to be completed is a
mystery, since the film clearly examines the turbulent
history of its country of origin from a radical Brechtian point
of view. Perhaps the colonels' men thought that this story
of a troupe of itinerant actors touring Golfo the Shepherdess, a
pastoral folk drama set to music and song, was harmless enough.
But it wasn't, since the period in which it is set (1939 to
1952) warmed the seeds of their masters' military coup.
Almost four hours long, The Travelling Players has its actors
first watch and then get caught up in the political events of
the period, so that even the play changes its emphasis. As they
progress through the often rainy and wintry provincial Greece in
which Angelopoulos usually prefers to shoot, the sequences
become longer and longer and the pace seldom changes. The whole
film is accomplished in around 80 shots.
But despite that, and even though no one but a Greek can
understand all the political, historical and mythic allusions,
it is a fascinating progress, enlivened by Yorgos Arvanitis's
often luminous photography, Loukianos Kilaidonis's throbbing
music, including songs and dances adapted from folk sources, and
performances that seem utterly truthful.
by Derek Malcolm (with preface by Ian Christie)