Theo Angelopoulos’ Reconstruction (1970)

November 21, 2011 by Simon Kinnear in Retro with 0 Comments

I’m still not done with Andrei Tarkovsky, and already I’ve been sent a boxset of an auteur who makes the Russian master look as fast and frolicsome as Disney. Greek director Theodoros ‘Theo’ Angelopoulos is famous for slow, complex, highly political films like The Travelling Players, which uses only 80 shots in a 4-hour run time.

I toyed with doing a BlogalongaAngelopoulos (try saying that a couple of times) but seriously, this blogging-along madness has to stop! So I’ve decided to dip my toe in by watching Angelopoulos’ debut, Reconstruction – and, based on that, it’s going to be a while before I have the patience to try the other films in the set.

But, if you’re a glutton for punishment, The Theo Angelopoulos Collection Vol 1 is out now from Artificial Eye, comprising Reconstruction (1970), Days Of ’36 (1972), The Travelling Players (1975) and The Hunter (1978).

The Theo Angelopoulos Collection Reconstruction

(Theodoros Angelopoulos, Gr, 1970)

As bleak as life in dictator-controlled Greece, Angelopoulos’ debut is an intentionally cold and frustrating viewing experience

A crime of passion has rarely been shown with such lack of passion than in Theo Angelopoulos’ debut. A man returns to his Greek village home after a long time away as a guest worker in Germany; he is murdered by his wife and her lover. We never see the killing, but the film crosses back-and-forth between their attempts to cover up the truth, and the official investigation once they are caught.

Spoilers? Hardly. Angelopoulos gives away the ending early on – the reconstruction of the title referring, most obviously, to the police’s attempts to piece together what happens. But it also reflects a camera crew, wandering about the village putting together their own take on the story in a style that Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami would turn into his trademark during the 1990s. And, let’s not forget, the film’s own flashbacks are a form of reconstruction. Put simply, there are a lot of fragments here to be pieced back together – this is one of those art-house films intent on treating time and space like a jigsaw.

It is wilfully perverse, frustrating slow stuff. Simply because there is no surprise, the experience of watching the film is as bleak and forlorn as the Greek landscapes, shot in coldly formal monochrome and laborious long takes. Even occasional bouts of intrigue, like the killers’ elaborate attempts to pretend the husband has gone away on business again, take an eternity to unravel. Having recently seen Nuri Ceylan Bilge’s similar tale of a murder investigation in Turkey, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, I’m beginning to wonder whether this is just the way things are in the Mediterranean.

But there’s probably a good reason for Angelopoulos’ anti-style in 1970. Greece was in the grip of a military junta, and people in those days had to bide their time and bite their tongues for fear of being arrested. On the surface, this is a pro-authority picture, in which the authorities solve a crime and (no doubt) punish the guilty. But because Angelopoulos has stripped away any sense of triumph, the forensic examination of the village makes it clear that this (and, by extension, Greece itself) is a rotten place.

The film opens with a statistic recounted in voiceover. In the thirty years between two censuses, the population of the village has fallen from 1,283 to 85. That’s a staggering drop, explained by the harsh living conditions in Greece (“sheep don’t know working hours,” one character bemoans) and the promise of increased leisure time in friendly Germany. That’s left an ageing, listless population, exactly the jaded, depleted body politic that a coup d’etat will eat for breakfast.

The central murder becomes symbolic of the amoral, disordered world of the junta, an empty, cold-hearted land where an innocent man is killed because – well, that we never find out. Rashomon-style, each killer’s evidence contradicts the other’s. Even the camera crew can only document, scarcely getting to the truth. But it doesn’t matter. In this place, death is simply a grim matter of fact.

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