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Αρθρογραφία

Ταινιοθήκη της Ελλάδος

της  Maria Komninos

Πρώτη δημοσίευση: Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: Refrains of Freedom, International Conference, 24-26 April, Panteion, Athens
Panel: Images of Time and Images of Crisis

An internationally acclaimed auteur with a distinct personal style, modernist Theo Angelopoulos made his mark for his epic transpositions of ancient Greek myths to modern settings. Such transpositions are central within his films (Létoublon, 2001:31). On the other hand, grand metanarratives like Marxism, typical according to Lyotard of modernity (Lyotard, 1979/1984: 36-37), form the basis of Angelopoulos’ political statements, along with family woes of heroes inspired by Greek mythology.

It is this quality of TA as a film historian, historian of the 20th and the first decade of the 21st century, and cinemythologist, that I’m interested in exploring today. As a historian he is inspired by the younger generation of historians such as Dominique Eudes and Hanz Richter who revised official history about the Greek civil war. In terms of cinematic devices he draws his inspiration from Brecht but in similar way to JLG he aspires to redeem the defeated in the Greek civil war and then more generally the immigrants and the dispossessed in the Balkans through cinema.

To start let me quote the auteur himself. A propos of his epic film The Traveling Players (1975), Angelopoulos stated: “My heroes’ motives are different (than those of the tragic heroes1 and the ideas that motivate them belong to another historical space. It is “History” which intervenes, alters and changes the heroes. There are contradictions inside the heroes’ characters, but they don’t stem from the psychological level. Their actions are not amenable to psychological interpretation”. (Frida Liappa and Michel Dimopoulos, 19:

Drawing a parallel with Godard is apt here. According to Serge Daney in chapter 2A of Histoire/es du cinema, Godard was in an ideal position for enunciating a history of cinema, having been leading force and key representative of new wave.

I argue that Angelopoulos as the major force behind Greek New Cinema was also in ideal position to write a history/ies of cinema from a Greek point of view while unfolding narratives of transnational concern and appeal. This imaginary project will have to be deduced from the body of his oeuvres and his many interviews and portraits.

The hypothesis I put forward is that Angelopoulos use of time is his major diegetic device and as such a particular lens through which to look at the relationship between History and modernity and crisis. To this end I would like to draw a parallel with Benjamin’s thoughts as articulated in his seminal essay “Theses on the philosophy of History”. In this text he sets a concept of time in which “the authentic moment of an innovative present interrupts the continuum of history and breaks away from its homogenous flow” (Habermas1990: 11). Benjamin wants to break from a traditional way of writing history “historicism” as he aptly calls it in which the course of history is empathised and comprehended as a mass of facts assembled in an ideal simultaneity in order to fill up an “empty and homogenous time”. He proposes instead the model of a historical materialist: “A historical materialist cannot do without the notion of a present which is not a transition, but in which time stands still and has come to a stop. For this notion defines the present in which he himself is writing history. Historicism gives the eternal image of the past: historical materialism supplies a unique experience with the past” (Thesis XVI). As Monica Dall’Asta has argued: “On the contrary the true picture of the past finds its way only in a definite present, to which it is destined: the now of its legibility. Variously defined as “dialectical image” or “telescopage” of the past through the present”, it is an experience of time in which any distance between past and present has been abolished the effect of a juncture in time (Monica Dall’ Asta 2004:355). Monica Dall’Asta argues that the true picture of the past is a product of montage and the method of historiography as decoupage and montage outlined by Benjamin finds a precise application in film in her case Godard’s Histoire/es and in our case in A’s trilogy of History.

Or to put in Bergsonian terms « Virtual past is a single dimension in which all past coexist. The virtual past is produced at every present moment as a « memory of the present», a virtual double of its actual present. Bergson visualises the virtual past as a cone, with its point representing the past’s coincidence with the present, and its widening volume representing the ever- growing expanse of coexisting past events. In that our past is preserved within itself and surges forward into the present, we can say that its present moment is a contraction of the past, a concentration of the entire cone at the point of its apex. Which can be in the case of cinema be compared with the now of its legibility the now of the unfolding of the cinematic image and its perception by the spectator.

According to Deleuze now in the virtual past we find three basic paradoxes of the non-chronological time: ‘‘the pre-existence of the past in general’’ (the cone as a whole), ‘‘the co-existence of all the sheets of the past’’ (the cross sections), and ‘‘the existence of a most contracted degree’’ (the apex) (IT 130-31):99) (Bogue 2003:135-136).

I would like to argue that A’s first trilogy of History, Days of 36, Travelling Players and the Hunters, is filmed in a way that breaks from the mode of realist narrative of the war, which could be compared to the methodology of historicism. As the director points out: “I had to find a way to avoid conventional images which have been imprinted to collective memory from films and storytelling: hunger...deaths... persecutions.” (Insert clippings from “barefoot Battalion” and “Blockade”). This could signify a break away from films which were operating along the lines of a sensory –motor scheme.

Thus the narrative in Travelling Players begins and is anchored in 1952 during Papagos electoral campaign. (Insert clipping from Travelling players). This first plan secance of Angelopoulos is indeed a dialectical image, since the past 1938 has been telescoped to the present of the narrative 1952 and more precisely acts as now time perceived by the spectator each time the film is projected, as a juncture in time through which the redemption of the past is perpetually fought (i.e. the defeat of the Left during the civil war and the persecutions of its supporters -which the New Left- with which the director identifies himself- struggles to vindicate).

If this section could be analyzed in Deleuzian terms: if the sensory motor scheme is abandoned which are the refrains of freedom which are introduced through the image time? For instance if Deleuze speaks of films such The Golden Coach (La carosse d’or) by Renoir as “split crystal, the living present offering potential escape from the stultifying weight of the dead past” in (Bogue 2003:132).In this case the potential escape is only possible for the audience from 1974-2015 which can imagine an imaginary escape from a past of dependency and beggaring by foreign powers.

The manner to accomplish this break with historicism and the transition to a new mode of historical writing is according to Benjamin by adopting a historical materialist method: “A historical materialist approaches a historical subject only where he encounters it as a monad. In this structure he recognises the sign of a messianic cessation of happening or put it differently, a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past.”(Thesis XVII) *. I would like to argue that the way that Angelopoulos is applying cinematically this method of historical materialism is by breaking away from realism through montage and decoupage. Instead therefore of movement –images he prioritises time- images.

In the sequence of September, December 1944, ta Dekemvriana (December events) the director dedicates a sequence –plan to the clashes between EAM/ELAS and the British (i), which have triggered off the civil- war. In the third of December following the resignation of EAM ministers from Papandreou’s government, EAM organized a big protest demonstration in the city of Athens, in Constitution square, and they were attacked by police forces. The British forces were instructed by Churchill to treat Athens as they would “a captured city where local rebellion is in progress”. These historical events are condensed in an elliptical description: a group of proletarians are gathered in the square in a provincial town. An instructor with a loud speaker is singing a revolutionary song. The crowd is waving flags from all the allied counties: Soviet, stars and stripes, Union Jacks. The song is interrupted by shots from snipe shooters and three unarmed protesters fall to the ground. Then a lonely piper, acting as a signifier for the British troops walks in the square. One of the members of the troupe, the old man- the accordionist-whom we thought dead is slowly rising from the pavement and starting to walk away.(If we take that each member of the troupe is acting as the protagonist in different sequences, then his suspension of movement serves as device to lead the spectator to a purely optical and sound situation a state of elation, experienced by the audience, by the entry of the risen people: from the other side of the square a crowd of protesters appears brandishing only red flags and Marx’s posters .They are in an angry mood ready to avenge their fallen comrades). 

The elliptical description of the events fits the scheme since often another town Jannina is used instead of Syntagma square. Deleuze establishes a direct link between Bergson’s theories of focused perception and image-time, drawing an analogy with Alain Robbe –Grillet’s theory of description, which was a fundamental technique of nouveaux roman (ii). According to Robbe- Grillet’s the pure optical image appears necessarily less rich “it is not the thing, but a ‘description’ which tends to replace the thing, erases the concrete object, which selects only certain features of it, even if it means making way for different descriptions that will pick out different lines or features, which are always provisional, always in question, displaced or replaced” (iii) . Finally he makes the point that “is this uniqueness, which gives the optical image its richness: even if it retains only one element, sometimes just a simple line or a point it still succeeds to render to the object its essential singularity”. 

In the second film of the trilogy the hunters illustrate as Deleuze points out “the true break in the history of cinema which is embedded in the history of century and illustrates the interpenetration of form and chronology”. ( DeBaeque 2012:). 

Thus Angelopoulos sets up modernist texts in which spectators are summoned to become producers of new interpretations of history, yet within the framework of the grand metanarratives of Marxism. In his penultimate trilogy, the trilogy of the frontiers: The suspended step of the stork, Ulysses Gaze and An eternity and a day he abandons the Brehtian devices and “materialist realism”, which were the landmarks of his first trilogy, and prioritizes auteurist choices “in a constant self reflexivity and exterior cultural preferentiality” . However he sustains editing as a major device for continuing his historical project. 

Films like Ulysses’ Gaze of 1995, where an ex-Marxist, tormented by his own family past and the loss of his ideology after the fall of the Iron Curtain, reinvents himself as a modern Ulysses traveling around the war-ridden Balkans of the time, are trajectories of the filmmaker’s own self-conscious subjectivity and reflections of Odysseic voyages marked by the crisis of the project of Enlightenment (Adorno and Horkheimer1997:), as experienced in the end of the 20th century his films. Yet he abandons a “historicist” notion of time prioritizing instead the construction of “dialectical images” or images of crisis, which can be analysed with tools from the Deleuzian oeuvre. 

Although the narrative in Ulysses’ Gaze is set in a postmodern, war-torn Balkan Peninsula, structured around the self-conscious gaze of a director identifying with the main character .As can be surmised both in the subplot of the film director assuming the persona of Yannaki Manaki and getting involved in the Balkan Wars and also in the leitmotiv of the search for the lost reels of the Manaki brothers. Besides the constant search of this first gaze the innocent look of the first Balkan cameramen the Yannaki brothers serves as prelude to the deferral of happiness as our hero always comes too late for his union with Penelope. As Deleuze points out in the context of the Leopard the cataclysmic changes of Risorgimento seem to come too late for the prince of Lampedusa. This sense of deferral is also invoked in the case of A, who is always too late to realise his personal happiness or rather because in times of crisis personal happiness is perpetually lost. 

At another secance the cultural preferentiality of the oeuvre is caught in the New Year’s Eve party at the family home at Costanza which evokes the particular poetic redemption of the past, which is so characteristic of Angelopoulos. The son (Harvey Keitel) leads his lover (Maia Morgenstern) to the railway station in Bucharest. There, as she leaves, he is caught in almost Freudian dream-like-ness to an epic return to the family home guided by his mother (Mania Papadimitriou) to revive his lost childhood and the memories of a diasporic past which is also irrevocably lost following the chasing of the Greek community after the ascent of the communist regime. The family party is interrupted by the arrival of Rumanian security police who are there to arrest the hero’s uncle. The distance between the past and the present is now effaced not through commitment to a revolutionary project but rather through the commitment of the author to “sculpting” the impact of history out of which the modernism of the arrival of the “Angelus Novus” in the Balkans is projected. 

History becomes the canvas for Angelopoulos filmic poetry in the first Trilogy more attuned with materialist realism which prioritizes the collective in contrast with the third trilogy which is marked by an interplay between self-reflexivity and multicultural preferentiality. Thus Angelopoulos should be considered one of the preeminent modernist auteurs of the last century and thus a major influence for the new generation of innovative directors in world cinema. (Touch of Sin, by Jia Zhag Ke). 

Angelopoulos chronicles this tragic trajectory in his unique cinematic style, with slow extended, camera movements and a lyrical sense of the relation between landscape and cinema mixing the personal and the local with the grandest historical narrative. His later films foresaw and reflected on the rise of neo-liberalism and global capitalism, which has led to the current Greek crisis (Mulvey2014 :). His approach to History is comparable to JLG in the way that both directors have aspired to use cinema as a means to project the history of the 20th century and have used montage and decoupage as major device for redeeming the past. 


* Walter Benjamin “Theses on the Philosophy of History” in Illuminations, New York, 1969
i Mark Mazower, Inside Hitler’s Greece, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) pp352-3.
ii Gilles Deleuze, Cinéma 2L’image –temps, Paris, L’éditions de Minuit, 1985, p.62-63. Paola Marrati,Gilles Deleuze, cinéma et philosophie, Paris,PUF,2003
iii Gilles Deleuzes, Cinema 2:The Time-Image, London ,the Athlone Press,1989,p.63


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