Mia Aioniotitia Kai Mia Mera (Eternity and a Day) (Theo Angelopoulos, 1998)
Summarizing the main plot of Theo Angelopoulos’ Eternity and a Day is quite simple: Alexandre (Der Untergang‘s Bruno Ganz), a dying author, has decided to take his own life. On the way out of the pharmacy where he has bought the painkillers he plans to do so with, he sees the attempted abduction of a young boy (Achileas Skevis in his only feature appearance; he is now a production assistant in the TV industry), who it turns out is from Albania. Alexandre decides to help the boy, who remains unnamed throughout the film, to get back to his own country, and the two go on an absurd, endlessly-frustrating journey that would not be out of place in a Bunuel film. Along the way, perhaps, Alexandre learns a few things about life, the universe, etc. All well and good.
But that doesn’t tell you a blessed thing about the movie, really, which is full of flashbacks and diversions, reflections on political relations between Greece, Albania, and Turkey, ridiculously overdone scenes that seem to loom out of the mist, and then recede again (every review I’ve read of the film—every single one—mentioned the wedding scene, so I’m going to mention it, and then move on), etc. There’s a lot of meandering that goes on here, not just on Alexandre’s journey, but in the structure of the film itself. This is not a bad thing, though there did seem to be a few times when Angelopoulos was in danger of losing the plot altogether; he wasn’t quite as accomplished at the whole endless-diversion thing as is, say, Kiarostami in Certified Copy (the scene towards the end with the debate over the statue would have fit right in here), but he does it well enough that the film never stops being watchable.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. The movie was co-written by Tonino Guerra, responsible for such plotless, meandering spectacles as L’avvenutra, Amarcord, Nostalghia, and Everybody’s Fine (yes, the Robert DeNiro flick, which was actually a remake of a 1990 film by one of the world’s best directors, Giuseppe Tornatore). The journey is far more important than the destination where Guerra is concerned, which is not to take anything away from the striking (though ambiguous) destination here—about which I cannot say anything without being spoilerific, obviously, except to say that it is at the same time both vaguely unsatisfying and yet entirely right. It seems to me that such a thing would be incredibly difficult to pull off, if that is the effect one were going for, but it still leaves me, well, vaguely unsatisfied. But there is much to be enjoyed here, and it is often a thing of great beauty and subtle resonance, one which should be seen. It may not be Angelopoulos’ best movie—did he ever top The Travelling Players? Magic eight-ball says “probably not”—but it is still well worth checking out. ***
Trailer. Subbed, yes, but not in English. ’cause that’s how we roll at Goat Central.