Thursday, 27 November 2008

Angelopoulos, Takeshi Kitano, Cacoyiannis

In yesterday’s Guardian, Ronald Bergen wrote:

‘Thessaloniki's international film festival, which will celebrate its half-century next year, again reinforced its reputation for being a festival where directors are the stars. For example, when one walks up the stairways of the large Olympia cinema, the walls are plastered with scores of photographs of film directors – not an actor to be seen.

‘This year, tributes were paid to the Dardenne brothers, Oliver Stone and Terence Davies, who all gave masterclasses to packed, enthusiastic young audiences, and there was a nine-film homage to Ousmane Sembène, who died last year. Takeshi Kitano was also presented with an Honorary Golden Alexander, for lifetime achievement.

‘Kitano, whose latest film, Achilles and the Tortoise, has Greek connections (the title comes from Zeno's paradox), said that it was a real pleasure to be so honoured especially by Greece, the home of great playwrights and philosophers, and "the cradle of western civilisation". Although these remarks are always flattering to Greeks, they also get on their nerves. It implies that Greece did its bit for civilisation centuries ago and has rested on its laurels ever since.

‘Despite the cradle being a bit battered these days, having gone through wars and revolutions and social and political upheavals, they have still produced many great artists since the days of ancient Greece, including two internationally renowned film directors – Michael Cacoyannis and Theo Angelopoulos, both of whom were represented at the festival.

My Life and Times: Michael Cacoyannis, a documentary by Lydia Carras, reminded us how the 86-year-old was once the embodiment of Greek cinema, reaching his peak of popularity with Zorba the Greek (1964). Yet with his Euripides trilogy, featuring the magnificent Irene Papas, Cacoyannis proved that the classic plays on film could still grip modern audiences…’

(Read the article in full here).

Just a couple of additional points.
It’s good to see that Angelopoulos is still going strong. His vision has always been epic, tragic and poetic. Above is a clip from his breathtakingly brilliant Travelling Players (1974) – which is not only the greatest ever Greek film, but also a masterpiece of cinema full stop.

Takeshi Kitano, who has rightly been honoured by the Thessaloniki festival for lifetime achievement for his films – which include Hana-Bi, Sonatine, Violent Cop, Brother, Boiling Point, Kikujiro – is also a visionary filmmaker with a strong sense of the tragic, heroic and poetic. Indeed, it’s worth pointing out that the only civilisation in the world of any significant interest besides that of Greece’s is Japan’s – and, of course, the similarities between Greek and Japanese civilisation are striking.

Finally, regarding Cacoyiannis’ Euripides trilogy – Electra, Trojan Women and Iphigenia; these are all good films, but Cacoyiannis is a filmmaker with a predilection for realism and he misses a fundamental aspect of Greek tragedy, which is that, as Nietzsche says, it takes place in an ‘ecstatic dream world’.


Hermes said...

As always, anything in The Guardian relating to the Hellenic world, is problematic. Here is some of Diatribe's analysis of recent Greek film:

Damn he writes well.

john akritas said...

Yes, DK does write well; but he is completely wrong about Angelopoulos, and especially about Voyage to Kythera which is a great film. And how he can claim that Angelopoulos is 'bleak and brooding' while liking the suicidally depressing and awful Brides is inexplicable. And Sirens in the Aegean is not 'fun and zany' but stupid and a disgrace. Angelopoulos has a poetical vision – it is not an exaggeration to say that he is Seferis on film – and his films are completely steeped in Greek culture, literature, history and explorations of our national identity. If people don't get or like his films, then they should try a little harder. Here's something Australians might not know: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Crocodile Dundee are not good films and they shouldn't be used as the standard to judge Angelopoulos.

Hermes said...

Never seen Brides or Sirens. I was told about Brides and the story seems implausible i.e. Greek captains were highly respected members of Greek society and would never harass young unmarried women; Greek brides of that era would never wear their wedding dresses before a wedding; and Greek women would never fall in love with an Anglo. It appears that it was manufactured for a globalised American audience. Angelopoulos is great (despite some of his politics being misguided). It is his copiers which have made him appear boring. However, I do not agree his attempt to Europeanise his latest work.

john akritas said...

I don't think I've ever come across these Angelopoulos imitators, so I can't judge, nor have I ever found A boring. However, I would agree that his films up to and including Voyage to Kythera are better than those made after – though I really liked Eternity and a Day – and that these later films do suffer from being European co-productions (though they suffer more from being prone to solipsism). I don't know why Angelopoulos went down this European route – why he felt the need to collaborate with Tonino Guerra or started hiring American actors (like Harvey Keitel); maybe it was the only way he could raise money for his films or maybe he wanted a wider audience.

Brides is for Greek Americans, to reassure them that Greece is backward and oppressive and how lucky they are to live in America, where individuals can abandon their ethnic straightjackets and find freedom. Even though I don't like the film, it aspires to some kind of seriousness, which is more than can be said for Sirens in the Aegean, which is a typically vulgar and shallow modern Greek film to do with the alleged absurdity of Greek-Turkish tensions in the Aegean and how Greeks and Turks are fundamentally the same and here's a romance between a Greek soldier and a good looking Tourkalla to prove how love is more important than war. If Sirens in the Aegean is all Greeks are capable of and what Greeks want and believe, then the country doesn't deserve to be saved – from Turks, Slavs, Americans or anyone else for that matter.

Hermes said...

I have always found it weird that people think that Americans are more free than Greeks. In fact, people in the New World (US, Australia, Canada) are the least free in the world - look at the limited political expression in their countries. Unfortunately, Greece is quickly heading down this path. Ordinary Greek citizens increasingly feel trapped. They cannot speak out about what is happening in their country....

Political freedom can only be achieved in a relatively homogenous state. Aristotle, Isocrates and Plutarch recognised this. Macchiavelli did as well. This was one of Castoriadis's blindspots. Obviously, he was less autonomous than what he thought.

john akritas said...

Americans aren't free; they are stupid.

Yes, heterogeneous societies are unsustainable, and inhuman, i.e. in trying to survive they need to iron out the differences that make us human. Castoriadis talks about the need for democratic societies to be 'self-limiting' – i.e. they must be exclusive as well as inclusive – and the society he admires most – Periclean Athens – stringently regulated who was and who was not entitled to citizenship. In his essay Reflections on Racism, C writes against the cult of human rights and cultural relativism – both of which he regards as outgrowths of the pseudophilosophies of liberalism and Marxism – so even if C is probably best described as some kind of libertarian socialist, he does strongly hint at the advantages of compact societies.