cute puffin, big beak’s review published on Letterboxd:
In 2011, Bela Tarr summarized his whole career and his work's surrounding themes in his final film, The Turin Horse. Not by any means his finest, but his most deeply personal. Theo Angelopoulos was most certainly not done by 1998, with the passion he showed behind the scenes comparable to Spike Lee in terms of self-importance. There lies the conflict with Angelopoulos. A man depicted a bit stubbornly and arrogantly, and yet his films are so earnest, so humble, so considerate, and so sincere. His words never felt hollow, his characters never simply as puppets, his purposes never feeling anything less than human. Eternity and a Day was not Angelopoulos' last film, but it very well could be his most personal like with Tarr and The Turin Horse, the one that summarized the career behind him and reflected on his own philosophies, culture, and fears moving forward. It would also be his best film had The Hunters not existed.
But I think The Hunters is Eternity's most easily comparable, and the reason as to why is what makes them the director's finest. Both reflect both a literal story and a symbolic one, with The Hunters accounting for the continued pain brought about by war in the form of a long-dead soldier's corpse still bleeding, and Eternity and a Day faces the personal, the cultural, and the universal paths in life's journeys, whether that be from one life to another (crossing the country's border), to crossing from life into something else entirely. The companionship of Alexandre and the child is not a simple metaphor, as it does clearly and beautifully exist in a literal sense. But it is the symbolic journey that matters just as much here.
This surreal combination of the literal and the metaphorical is why I believe Angelopoulos actually makes a good companion to the likes of Studio Ghibli. I think specifically of the train scene in Spirited Away used as a means of reflection and observation, of memories entering and exiting as fast as they came. Of true companionship and understanding, in sharing the same vehicle, the same vantage point. Here, on the bus, Alexandre and the child silently share their journeys with a few other figures, some recurring throughout the film, and some only here for the ride. Angelopoulos' minor characters are given as much respect in their frames as his main cast is given. And the voiceless, the quiet, are as representative of anything as the ones he follows most closely. Which is in part why Angelopoulos may be in his own lane culturally, speaking for his country in a way that feels far beyond himself or any individual. But his work feels universal in its emotion, even if its situation is deeply rooted in its own cultural circumstances.
And because it is so universal in its philosophy, it is so resonate not only to Greece or to Angelopoulos, but to any life looking inward at death. I think of its lead actor, Bruno Ganz. The film sees death as sometimes beautiful, sometimes shared, and sometimes frightening. And as more and more of its cast and crew pass away, this meaning will resonate more and more. With Ganz's own passing earlier this year, Eternity and a Day hopefully meant as much to those who had watched it as it did to those who made it. Because I would argue this is Ganz's definitive role, and his most pained considering his own perspective isn't as eternal as his character's.
This is Angelopoulos' return to the ideas that built him up so well to begin with. The cultural barriers of borders and time from Voyage to Cythera, the more blatant and acknowledged reflections made on the bus is similar to The Travelling Players taking that same route via train. And most importantly, in my opinion, is the reference made, intentionally or otherwise, to The Hunters.
Angelopoulos' best scene, in his best film, in his whole career, is the gentle rowing of sailboats in The Hunters. This is the ultimate acknowledgement for the film's upper-class cast as to the pains the war brings about, even if only in some abstract distant and quiet little song from the boats drifting into the horizon.
And at 1:14:20 in Eternity and a Day, continuing for a good minute or two, the song heard 21 years prior in The Hunters, "Tis Agapis Aimata" (I could only find its name thanks to its appearance in this film) is quietly performed. Alexandre references the summer of '39, his own childhood, and the summer before the war, before running to the cliff's edge and spotting a boat. What was once a symbol for the lost victims to sin, is now waved at enthusiastically by Alexandre. A vehicle for the past, pressing onward into eternity.