Edgar Cochran’s review published on Letterboxd :
O Megalexandros is one of the most difficult cinematic experiences to analyze and interpret. Theodoros Angelopoulos closed a historical cycle that determined the societal future of Greece as a democratic nation and achieved a colossal maturity in the process of introducing a population of the early 20th Century. This intentionally complex masterpiece is cinema reaching a state of human perfection. It is one of those very rare and thought-provoking masterworks that have the capacity of surpassing the artistic and cinematic perspective of any viewer and fan. Not even the avid admirers of Angelopoulos were handed the proper tools and the necessary psychological preparation for witnessing and fully appreciating such a cerebral epic work of art... not with a single viewing, at least. There is not a clear influence behind this massive film project, but instead of depending on the legendary character, the birth of a new century is the unstoppable, materialistic machinist of the brutally honest events that are depicted through a political point of view, yet not rejecting the artistic brilliance and implicit totalitarian horror that instantly appeals to modern masses.
A Greek bandit who believes himself to be Alexander the Great, the ancient Greek liberator whose tale was originated in the year of 1453, kidnaps a group of English aristocrats and takes them to a mountain village where he is trying to establish an agrarian commune with the help of a group of Italian aristocrats. His generousness and constant worshipping from the inhabitants transform the socialist hero into a Stalinist dictator, affecting the lives of the commune and being absorbed by its political power. Director Theodoros Angelopoulos won the FIPRESCI Prize and the Golden Lion under the category of Emerging Cinema at the Venice Film Festival of 1980. The film won 4 Greek Competition Awards for Best Sound, Best Set Decoration, Best Cinematography and Best Film, and also won a Hellenic Association of Film Critics Award for Best Film at the Thessaloniki Film Festival of 1980.
Angelopoulos has been constantly going through exceptional and remarkable transitions of style. This time, historical knowledge is not required, and the film is much more than a mere successor of the films that formed A Trilogy of History. O Megalexandros promised a metaphysical ride full of mythical allegory and mysticism at its purest form since the beginning, and that is exactly what its slow-paced and hypnotic hours ended up providing. The film itself is a retelling of the infamous Dilessi incident of 1870 in which brigands in the Greek countryside kidnapped three English aristocrats and one Italian aristocrat while touring the area around Marathon, demanding a large ransom. During those times, the French and the British gave financial and military support in order to install a constitutional monarchy in Greece. Such event is adapted to a fable set in the dawn of the twentieth century in order to highlight the director's disillusionment towards a modern authoritarian tyranny. Besides, it is left clear that the main character is a fusion of the famous liberator and the malevolent bandit.
O Megalexandros possesses an exhaustive number of references towards Greek mythology, most of the symbols being shown through literal objects. The film draws with expressionistic strokes the human idolatry of the society to an authoritarian figure, not precisely because of his/her particular social ideologies and benignities, but because of the political influence such figure has obtained regardless of the means. This filmic element is represented as a one that has always been a transcendent and undeniably influential factor in the governmental evolution of mankind. It is this landmark point in history the one that divides the plot of the film in two very separate chapters. In the first chapter, a new society is born because of the result of a necessary and celebrative renaissance that was originated from a complete historical reconstruction. The second chapter opens a criticism towards any kind of government that bases its rules, values and morals on the oppression of a lower class.
It is also noticeable how the slow development of the events does not happen in their most literal forms. The protagonist is a so-called hero created by a social class and is ultimately destroyed by the same class out of desperation. It is the law of the survival of the fittest combined with issues that appeal the new dawn of man, even taking the classical Greek art of sculpture and assigning it a meaning of complete destruction, like if the attitudes that a more modern society currently has were the same that led the past generations to a completely unbalanced state, originating cruel and dystopian dictatorships. The most explicit and graphic fact expressed in the film is the corrupted transformation of Megalexandros. His origins are unknown despite that he is introduced with a very theatrical and Shakesperian scene. It is not a responsibility of ours to understand their true motivations or the perfectly executed false promises that the commune received. Lies and impossible illusions disseminated through any means have resulted to be an effective method of brainwashing. This is the same Megalexandros that clearly has plagued the nineteenth century because of the roots that may have culminated in the creation of such figures. History, just like the film, is an irreversible chain of events.
Once again, a high attention to detail, a masterful direction that mixes past and present, and a breathtaking cinematography result in a destructive, cataclysmic explosion of mysterious layers of complexity and human astonishment. The main aspect that may lead to an utter state of catharsis is the neutrality of O Megalexandros, since it is a commentary aimed towards the followers of fanaticism. With an emphasis on the grandiosity of the scale and a satirical art direction rather than in the performances, Angelopoulos is able to modify his present atmosphere and play with the consequences without worrying any single second, being elegant in one moment and mystical in the next one. Solid performances strengthen the intentions behind the curtain and a haunting, Eastern musical score exalt is ambition, but to see Megalexandros in this film is to see the presidents are emperors that rule nowadays without any significant differing. Avoiding pretentiousness and introducing us to a time that may have determined the course of humanity if it weren't because of our constant complaining towards organized forms of government instead of deciding to take action, O Megalexandros is arguably the most challenging political act of our times disguised as an epic drama of breathtaking proportions, visual enchantment and a seducing atmosphere which lucidity seems to resemble the unique realm of human dreams. The ending is a reflection of the opening monologue, and the film, of our inner monsters.