“The Lobster” and the Absurd Demonization of Singlehood

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Funny how when we learn that a couple gets engaged or married, we tend to offer them congratulations. That implies that consummating a relationship in such a way is an accomplishment, something that one can achieve through deliberate effort, like a college degree. I believed this at one point in my life, and it led me to treat my interactions with my girl crushes as exams with specific right and wrong answers—as projects that involved contriving both my and the girls’ actions towards a preferred end goal. You can guess how that turned out. I’ve had dating experience since, and learned a critical lesson from it: love is a total crapshoot. It depends far less on what you do and don’t do than on chance, circumstance and coincidence—right place, right time. It happens by itself, and if you think you have to convince someone to love you, it’s not going to happen and you need to move on. It sounds cruel—but is the alternative really better? Our culture perpetuates an idea of singlehood and virginity as evidence of something off, when most would prefer the excitement of romance’s unpredictability to a situation ending in tears and divorce. The wait for The One is more worthwhile than the rush into marriage.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, like many of the great dystopian texts, is set in a society copied from ours, then taken to an extreme logical end. We’d like to insist that this world only exists in the film and we never have to worry about it—until we realize that the world’s social values and contracts mimic our own reality, and we are hypocrites to deny it. Set in an unnamed city-state (shot in Ireland), the story turns around a hotel where the powers that be send single persons and assign them forty-five days to find a spouse, after which those who are still single are transmogrified into animals. They individually get the solace of deciding which animal. No, wait—the attitude towards singles is even more insidious than that. In the forest beyond the hotel, there’s a rebel force called the Loners who commit to celibacy and suppress all sexual interest, and who the city’s unseen poobahs try to decimate by granting the singles one extra day at the hotel for each Loner they hunt down and shoot with a tranquilizer gun. David, played by a chubbier version of Colin Farrell, is our guide through this world. In the film’s first half, he searches for a mate in the hotel and (hilariously) makes little if any progress. In the second half, he is forced to escape the hotel and join the Loners, one of whom is Rachel Weisz, with whom he falls in love. This double irony anchors the film within a theme of reverse psychology. Coercion breeds rebellion, and no dictatorial apparatus, it seems, is too infallible for David to not fuck up just by being in it.

In The Lobster’s universe, first impressions are sacrosanct. Forty-five days go by fast, and the singles are half-encouraged by the careerist hotel manager (Olivia Colman) to not waste time thinking too hard and search for someone that shares just one distinct trait. It helps that most of the characters are boiled down to one definitive, physical aspect. One ostensible friend of David’s (Ben Whishaw) walks with a limp. He spots a girl (Jessica Barden) who looks hot doing a backstroke in a pool, strikes up a chat, and learns that she has a nosebleed issue. He proceeds to induce nosebleeds on himself with ridiculous masochism. She buys it; they elope. David fails to escape this need for cursory connectivity even while he’s with the Loners: his romance with Weisz (David is the film’s only named character) is based on their mutual nearsightedness, and that leads them into trouble. Lanthimos’ direction serves to call even more attention to the stifling, unreadable one-dimensionality of this ensemble. Everyone delivers their lines as if they’re doing a blind first reading of the script: the words come out as blank, monotonous filler, and the people seem to have no present knowledge of who they are and what they’re doing—instinct without introspection. Indeed, Weisz’ literary voiceover narration prompts us to read the film very much as a written text. At one point, she repeats the characters’ dialogue as a novelist would.

This, mind you, is not a weakness of the film but rather a calculated aesthetic choice that pays off in spades, as it reflects how we often perceive others through knee-jerk reactions and snap judgments. As The Lobster filters our intrusive obsession with marital unity through a surrealist smokescreen, its inhabitants are reduced to what they’re like when we first see them, or perhaps to how we’d like to see them for our own conveniences. There’s a pervasive sense of unreliability—a sense that Lanthimos is withholding stuff, and we’re not seeing the full story or its characters for who they really are. And still, we must spend two hours with these people, as married persons must spend time with each other, even if they’ve acted on impulse. (The lush, Villeneuve-like wide-angle photography of Thimios Bakatakis is the one refreshing counterpoint to this minimalist illegibility.) Such an approach relies less on keen acting than on keen (type)casting. The narrative rides roughshod on Farrell’s blasé Irish humor, Weisz’ decisive economy, Whishaw’s bluff British youth, Colman’s officious slime, and Barden’s self-deceptive charm—to say nothing of John C. Reilly’s under-the-radar physicality, and the feminine French steel of Léa Seydoux as the purely diabolical head honcho of the Loners. To see such a motley, unlikely ensemble come together game as they are for this cinematic challenge and pull it off as they do is stunning.

Lanthimos is the Greek auteur behind Dogtooth, an absurdist riff on homeschooling in which two evil parents keep their three children imprisoned in a lifelong farrago of indiscriminate, inaccurate linguistic associations. The Lobster intensifies that film’s mediation of potential real-world interpersonal situations through an uncanny surrealist bent. It is worth noting that Dogtooth had incest, unsimulated fellatio, and a climactic scene of dental gore that puts Marathon Man and Cast Away to shame—and it was nominated for an Oscar. Rest assured, he has not toned down the content for this film, his first major foray into the ultra-consumerist English language frontier. The violence done to human and animal alike is brutal, and the sex is cringe-worthy, and only more so when sterility is attempted. But none of this is gratuitous; all of it has a point—and that Lanthimos successfully plays this as a black comedy throughout vaults it over the top. Fellow hardcore cinema buffs: think Kaurismäki meets Samuel Beckett, but not as glacial. (The film’s funniest set pieces include Whishaw’s nosebleeds, a bullshit farewell letter read by Barden to an old chum who’s reached her last day, a solipsistic dance to electronica held by the Loners, a ludicrously stupid and sexist pro-marriage skit staged by the hotel staff, Farrell’s anti-reaction to a spectacularly failed suicide attempt, one moment where he and Weisz get a tad too cozy, and one moment where a man is asked to rate his wife “on a scale of one to fifteen” and gives the completely wrong answer.) That Lanthimos has gotten so much support from such acting heavyweights on merit alone, despite his serious anti-commerciality, is a testament to his artistic integrity and will to commit to his vision, yet also to his tact and his understanding of human perception and conditioning. Fact: Farrell has already signed onto his next film. This critic can’t wait.

Grade: A+

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“The Lobster” and the Absurd Demonization of Singlehood

Great Film: “Landscape in the Mist”, The Greatest Film You’ve Never Heard Of

Landscape in the Mist is elemental. It begins with two kids, an adolescent girl and her younger brother, walking towards a train station. They are unsupervised—a bizarre sight in the U.S., yet a familiar one in Europe, and as it turns out, we’re in Greece. The girl, Voula, asks her brother, Alexander, if he’s afraid; he says no, and they’re off. In two long takes, we see them head to the platform, but they’re interrupted by an adult and just miss boarding the train. We’re later given to understand that they’ve been told their father is in Germany, and they’d like to go meet him. Minutes later, they return to the station, in what at first feels like a total retread of the opening scene—only this time, there are no adult obstacles, and they board the train without conflict. This one simple change creates an exhilarating sensation. These two kids are indeed unafraid. They’re motivated, and we’re more than thrilled to join them on their journey, whatever the nature of it. Few if any films have as indelible and as effortless a hook as this one.

More through mood and implication than through dialogue, we learn early on that their mother told them on a whim that their father’s in Germany. In reality, she doesn’t know who the father is. Voula overhears an uncle speak to the effect of this—dismissively, talking to a railroad officer, while toying with knobs in his power plant—and accuses him of lying. Does she believe he’s lying? Or is she in denial of what her uncle says, and preferring to cling onto the myth of having a father? It doesn’t matter. We believe in the myth, too, because it’s what gives these scrappy young kids—and this film—their drive and their will to live, not to mention that film is myth. Landscape was made in 1988, in the twilight of the Cold War, but geopolitics mean nothing to our two protagonists and don’t discourage them. They may as well mean nothing to us, either. The USSR was on the verge of dismantling for good. Not unlike Kieslowski—who would move from his native Poland to France in The Double Life of Véronique one year later—this film’s director, Theo Angelopoulos, gazes westward. Horace Greeley’s urge to “Go West” applies well to the Europe of this time. For these kids, that urge is primal, and we root for them without thought. They are innocent, unadorned, precocious, and beautiful. No setup need be contrived to make them likable to an audience. We can jump into their lives and their travels without a second wasted.

You don’t need to be a film expert to understand why the train is the most critical symbol in all of cinema. Film as we know it owes its existence to the railroad industry more than anything else. Lynne Kirby’s Parallel Tracks, a two-pronged case study of the railroad and its rôle in developing early cinema, is a useful primer on this subject, and I will not sully it by summarizing it. (I used it extensively for my Haverford senior thesis.) So when Angelopoulos shows several interludes of Voula and Alexander riding trains through the Hellenic country—sitting in the aisle, sans tickets, cold and lonely, thinking of what they would say to their father—he’s cluing us in on how their journey is, among other things, a journey through film. The ever-forward movements of people, vehicles and film reels are one and the same in Angelopoulos’ eye, and this is the proper viewpoint. Landscape—like all, not most, all great films—is a commentary on film and hence on itself—its fallacy, its fragmentation, its sense of coming into these lives at a random moment in time, for a random length of time, only to capture an unsatisfying sliver of an eternity. Look at how keenly Angelopoulos isolates and calls attention to each of the bare bones of film production: theatre costumes hanging off a bus roof just like clothes hang off bodies, a violinist who steps into a restaurant to perform the film’s main musical theme for Alexander, a building floor plan in front of which one character holds up a scrap of film found in a pile of trash. That scrap shows a few frames of the title landscape, shrouded in mist, and we’ll see them again later, not as a separate film but as apart of this story. Like the floor plan, Angelopoulos here reveals his story’s structure: it’s a Möbius strip, allowing us to glimpse across at where the end will circle back around to the beginning.

It makes sense, too, for Voula and Alexander’s cinematic journey to intersect with cinematic journeys of past. A biker named Orestes meets them by chance on the road, takes a liking to them, and decides to guide them to the border. He’s an update of a character from another Angelopoulos film, The Traveling Players, a four-hour historical epic in which an acting troupe traverses Greece putting on productions of the show “Golfo the Shepherdess”, which are ceaselessly interrupted by WWII, the Communist coup and lesser quibbles. (The troupe itself is a modernization of the cast of characters from the Oresteia.) We of course see the troupe again here, and they’re in even worse shape than in the first story. They hold an open rehearsal for the two kids on a beach, and they don’t even get beyond their show’s prologue before the news comes that they’ve lost their venue. Later, to Orestes’ chagrin, they pawn their costumes. You see, interruptions are crucial to Angelopoulos—pitch-blackly comical interruptions that stop narratives before they can end, that mercifully stop narratives that seem to never end, yet that initiate their own Sisyphean process by which a story is repeated and dragged out for an eternity. (Compare to the kids trying to retell the Book of Genesis, then admitting, “This story will never end.”) The director’s writing partner here is Tonino Guerra, who also wrote for Fellini. Into this framework, Guerra inserts a jarringly random scene in which Voula, Alexander and Orestes watch as a helicopter lifts a large stone hand out of a bay. This is of course a riff on the opening of La Dolce Vita, in which a chopper, while transporting a statue of Christ across town, pauses above a rooftop to give the paparazzi a chance to flirt with the sunbathers. Here, the statue is reduced to a single appendage, stripped of all religious context and irony, opaquely and pathetically reaching towards land it can never grasp. The erosion of history is inexorable.

So, fragmented as it is, the story is by essence told in vignettes, which are paced with extreme care across just eighty-five takes (give or take a couple) in a hair over two hours. I could wax rhapsodic about any one vignette. Instead, I’ll focus on three, which stand out as some of cinema’s greatest set pieces:

#1: The horse. Like all journeys, Voula and Alexander’s involves experience, learning, coming of age. Film often portrays such things through sentiment and cliché. Yet, the lessons that these characters learn in this narrative are often painful and challenging, and Angelopoulos does not shy away from them. This is clear from one miniature mortality drama, in which the kids stumble into a town and find their path crossed by a carriage dragging a dying horse behind it. The horse’s suffering moves Alexander to tears. Meanwhile, a jubilant wedding party goes by, dancing, drinking, laughing, unaware of a life coming to an end nearby them. (Weddings are a big deal to this filmmaker, too.) They’ll never know that they could’ve witnessed this animal’s death, yet it is telling that Angelopoulos includes them in the scene, as he refuses to let their oblivion stand as an excuse to their ignorance. We must be vigilant, he seems to say. We must understand and never deny that there is death amidst life. Voula and Alexander understand that, and they take the time to mourn the horse and exhaust their grief, even when it hurts. The way Angelopoulos melds and juxtaposes these two spheres of feeling—joy and agony—is ingenious. 

#2: The truck. [Trigger warning.] The people who the kids encounter on their odyssey run the gamut from humane and genuine to vile and predatory. At the low end of that spectrum is a truck driver who the kids hitch a ride from in a rainstorm. The driver’s a creep—that much is made clear rather quickly—but that’s little preparation for the scene when he pulls off the road and orders Voula to get out. She senses something afoot and runs away, but the driver outruns her, carries her into the container, and rapes her. The incident takes place in one long static shot on the back of the truck, which has a tarp covering it. We see nothing. The truck itself looks hideous, but if you were flipping the channels and coming upon this scene and taking it out of context, you wouldn’t know what was going on. Nothing seems to happen. Cars keep driving. Alexander leaves the truck and calls for his sister. Two of them pull to the curb, and a brief exchange occurs between their passengers before they get back on the highway, oblivious to the trauma occurring nearby them. Our suspicions are only confirmed after the truck driver reemerges from the container, unfazed yet unsatisfied, followed by Voula, bleeding from the legs and stunned. There’s a case to be made for this being the best depiction of rape in cinema—not for the purity with which it fulfills the Hitchcockian ideal of leaving the trauma off-screen to make it even more terrifying, but for its perfect demystification of rape as a real-world issue. We as the audience are the drivers on the highway, absorbed in mundane banality. Somewhere in this world right now, as I write this and as you read this, someone is likely getting raped, and we may well never know a thing about it.

#3: The dance. Voula’s innocence protects her, somewhat. She’s been hurt physically, yes, but she cannot yet fully register the significance of her trauma, as she does not yet comprehend sex. Neither she nor the film dwell on her rape; she and Alexander abandon the truck driver and keep on heading north, pressing towards the border, eventually reuniting with Orestes. The assault is only referred obliquely, in two more scenes. The first is set on a beach, on which some furniture is set. Nearby speakers are playing a Western punk tune—of course, since as the kids go further west, so does the music. Orestes invites a hesitant Voula to dance with him, and he barely does a two-step before she is moved to run away and collapse in tears. One might think that she’s struggling to trust him because of what she has endured. But when one listens to what Orestes tells a concerned Alexander right after, another shade of meaning is added to the scene: Voula is in love with Orestes. The pain of her trauma doubles the pain she feels amidst falling in love with her guardian, and Voula—once an innocent blank slate—is transformed into a character of enormous depth and palpability. This is not least because—and I think she knows this—her romance with Orestes is doomed from the start, as he is older and intends to join the Greek army soon, and the later scene of their final parting is shattering. Oh yeah, and there’s that second scene, when Voula runs into a figure that has been called the antithesis of the truck driver, the other end of the moral spectrum, a figure of charity and honor. This scene, which I better not spoil, portrays a complex scenario of misunderstanding with little dialogue and provides a tremendous emotional payoff.

Landscape is among the rare breed of film that’s so good, you cherish all the small details: the way a snowfall slowly freezes everyone in a town, the way Yorgos Arvanitis’ camera and Yannis Tsitsopoulos’ editing juxtaposes columns on a train station platform with mammoth smokestacks, the haunting motif of long roads curving off to the right and disappearing in mists of fog and darkness. You wonder about all the little people captured on film and where they are today and what they might be doing right now if they’re still alive, as if this were a documentary. That long row of cars driving along Thessaloniki Bay as the stone hand broods over them—who are their drivers? Where did they come from? What errands are they on? Where did they go? Such is the power of this film, to seem like life even at its most fantastical moments, to make you imagine the abstract and unknowable. Even this film’s principal actors have a touch of obscurity to them, at least here in the U.S. Stratos Tzortzoglou (Orestes) has had a solid acting career, yet Tania Palaiologou (Voula) has only had a few other roles, all of them in Greece, and this is the only known film role of Michalis Zeke (Alexander), on whom the Internet hardly has any information. All three give dynamite performances here. It’s astonishing how much these young actors put their bodies into the task of fleshing out the lumbering gravitas of the journey, and the physical toll of time. It would be an honor to get in touch with any one of them today. As for the late Angelopoulos, he was and remains honored in Europe—having won the Silver Lion at Venice and the Best European Film Award for this—and has been championed by the likes of Scorsese and Kurosawa. In the U.S., he is criminally unknown; no film of his but this one has been distributed in U.S. theaters. I imagine he felt that neglect. Observe the scene where the violinist plays the main theme (by Eleni Karaindrou), and the owner of the diner kicks him out midway, favoring economy over art. A rude interruption, indeed, even if he gets some applause from Alexander. Film buff or not, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie.

What happens at the end is unshakable. It’s tragic, it’s beautiful, I haven’t figured it out, and I don’t think I want to. Are Voula and Alexander in Germany? Eden? Both? Their ideal versions of either? Have they left reality and entered the myth of cinema? Or where they ever in reality to begin with?

This film is available for free on Amazon Prime, with English subtitles.

Great Film: “Landscape in the Mist”, The Greatest Film You’ve Never Heard Of

31 Days of Cinema, Day Twenty-Five: “Eternity and a Day”

I predicted a few days ago that Lore would go down as the best film I’ve seen this month, and I have nothing but to chalk it up to the magic of cinema to always surprise me: Lore has been surpassed by a rather wide margin. Theo Angelopoulos—the master of Greek cinema, killed in a motorbike accident in 2012 at age seventy-six—is poised to become one of my favorite filmmakers, and after much reflection, I am all but ready to induct his Landscape in the Mist into my all-time Top Ten. Eternity and a Day, which won him the Palme d’Or at Cannes, is much further credit to him. I wrote earlier of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia—which has a script by Tonino Guerra, who also collaborated with Angelopoulos on numerous films including this—and which has an estimated 117 shots in just over two hours. Eternity has fifty-four shots, give or take a couple, in about the same span of time. Long takes were Angelopoulos’ specialty. Each shot to him, and to his photographer Yorgos Arvanitis, was a theatrical construction, slow and patient but never glib and never contrived, always telling a complex, layered narrative in its own right. Many of his shots switch places and time periods without resorting to obvious cuts, gliding between and juxtaposing past and present with rarely matched smoothness and perfect clarity. With one pan, we travel back in time over a century. Later, characters from the present walk into and observe the past from their own era, then move on. That’s just one example. Time gains as much dimensionality and tangibility as space. One adapts to the story’s rhythm, learns to appreciate the artistry of such setups, realizes that such a film is sui generis.

The “eternity” of the title is Alexander (Bruno Ganz), a poet whose goal in life was to complete The Free Besieged, the incomplete epic poem of Dionysios Solomos, the author of the national anthem of Greece and Cyprus. Alexander has failed; he is terminally ill and somehow plans to euthanize himself the next day, or so I guess. He gives away possessions and reconnects with remaining family one last time. He flashes back to happier times with his late wife Anna (Isabelle Renauld). Maybe he is the “day” of the title, since that is all he has left. Or maybe the “day” is the boy (Achileas Skevis), the Albanian runaway who kills time squeegeeing dashboards, whom Alexander rescues on a whim from a black market adoption service—in a ten-minute sequence told almost without dialogue, which is one of the film’s highlights. Or maybe the boy is “eternity,” since that is what it seems like he has to look forward to once Alexander takes him under his wing. The film is rife with such contradictions and clashes. There is an infinitude in a day—in any unit of time, really—and the inverse of that truth is that a day has the ability to encapsulate an eternity. The concept of infinity/eternity itself is a grand paradox: you can add anything to it, and it will retain its character. The concept of “one”—of one day—is literally infinitesimal, is all but nothing, up against it. Or is it? I could go on; such is the nature of endlessness and thought. The film’s signature achievement is that it illustrates such a paradox by fleshing it out in Alexander and the boy, and the age groups they represent. Infinity in the sense of math can be grasped by children and adults alike, and both struggle with it equally.

Is there any theme more significant in the arts and in history than the generations? I don’t think so. All the other great themes of art—among them the negotiation between liberty and security, the fundaments of human dignity, the vain fight against mortality—seem to be subsumed by the crises and interplays between the old and young generations, the development of one into the other, the idea of our offspring as our ultimate legacy in the world. Eternity conveys this universal theme in the simplest way possible—with one kid and one old man on life’s threshold—and expands from there. Throughout time, society as a whole has had nothing much besides contempt for children; look at how they’ve been imprisoned in schools, streamlined into unskilled labor, perceived as innately stupid, tricked into thinking their perspectives and agonies are invalid, used as shock absorbers for the pettier concerns of adults. Respect for children is a standard to which I hold people in general, and few if any filmmakers have more esteem for and understanding of youths than Angelopoulos had. There’s a devastating sequence in which one runaway kid, Sélim, appears dead in a morgue. His fellow street kids gather in a warehouse, where the boy eulogizes his friend as Alexander watches in stunned silence. Listen to the boy’s speech with care, and you will see how his meditations on and experiences with death and the afterlife are no less profound than Alexander’s, maybe even more so. Really, the boy seems to ask, what is the afterlife? Does consciousness cease or go on forever? Will we be forever young or creatures of eternity? Both outcomes have their pros and cons, you know. I once wrote in a poem (of which I am quite proud), “The end is terrifying, so is eternity: heaven the olive branch between the two.” I am confident that Angelopoulos would have agreed with that sentiment.

After Alexander stumbles upon the boy and becomes his guardian by accident, he makes it his life’s final duty to protect and guide the boy for as long as he can. It’s a less ambitious, more manageable, even more immediately humane task for him to take on than wrestling with Solomos, yet his time is limited and the boy will soon have to fend for himself, just like normal. Both use their time with each other as a reprieve—and it is an essential and worthwhile reprieve, which crafts a great story. One John Lennon (not the Beatle) has written, in Boxcar Politics, that political “movement[s]” are often manifested in “physical movement.” This applies well to Angelopoulos, who tracks his characters’ progress and political maturation in terms of their walks, runs and moments of stasis through space, time, history and technology, and across borders social and geopolitical. In one harrowing scene, Alexander takes the boy north to the snow-capped border with Albania, where a tall fence has silhouettes of bodies plastered all over it. Small wonder why the men decide to turn back. After they return to Thessaloniki, they witness a classical wedding party, which Alexander rudely interrupts to give away his dog. Angelopoulos herein is also tracing the movement of motifs across his body of work. In the adoption scene, the boys are lined up against a wall; one kid protests simply by walking forward and is promptly shoved back. This echoes a scene from The Traveling Players, in which the acting troupe faces a firing squad and Aegisthus fights back. As he aged, the filmmaker grew closer to youth—an act of atavism disguised as paradox—and decided to show that rebellion does not develop with adulthood but rather is primal, in us at birth—and, in a way, purer when we are young. (Recall Bob Dylan’s wistful refrain: “Eh, but I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now.”) The border crisis harkens back to Landscape, in which a young sister and brother (also named Alexander) head to Germany to reunite with their father, as if Germany bordered Greece and Cold War politics were nonexistent. That film also has a wedding scene interrupted by an animal—a horse, found dead.

Rest assured, the film can stand alone and is no less excellent viewed that way. Ganz as Alexander—hulking yet beaten down, artsy and snooty yet capable of tenderness and innate humanism—is near-perfect. I forgot right away that he was the actor who would go on to play Hitler. Renauld’s Anna is heard mostly in voice-over, from letters she wrote to her husband. Her dialogue is dense, ethereal, but appropriately so, and she imbues her words with enough emotion and poetry to make them compelling, and to get us to trust that she may well be talking to Alexander in some secret language that only they as lovers can understand, that we are not meant to interpret. The Italian actor Fabrizio Bentivoglio, as Solomos (yes, he does show up), has the daunting task of fleshing out a historic figure in a character’s national-mythological imagination without being garish. The key to his performance is its subtlety and nonchalance, and the way he (and Ganz with him) savors each unique Demotic Greek word that he purchases from common folk after his return from Italy. This is Angelopoulos’ way of cluing us in on art—film, in particular—as a constructive, economic process, with money and labor behind it, always a sign of the times it was made in—and on how art and the aural beauty of language and etymology depend on history and the generations to survive. Skevis as the boy is game for the challenge and matches Ganz in every scene. The men’s journey cannot last forever, and when they have two hours remaining, they can do nothing more mundane and unpretentious than go on a bus ride—a simple moment of mentorship made precious by context, which the filmmaker turns into yet another bravura set piece. In his obituary, critic David Thomson writes of the incompleteness that is reflected across Angelopoulos’ oeuvre, and of the irony (or is it?) that he was killed while in the middle of a film production, which will now be left unfinished forever. This is a man who seized at eternity and the eternal journey of man, and failed inexorably, but came up with a fragment of it that is plentiful and that does not fail to somehow symbolize infinity. The film’s denouement is inevitable and brutal; its emotional climax comes when Alexander parks in the middle of the road, longing for the boy to return just so he can clean his dashboard, for the twin youthful sensations of eternity and of carpe diem—of seizing each day, one by one—to return to his very mortal being, as we all do.

Let us hope that this film—and this director’s body of work—lasts for as long as its title prescribes.

Grade: A+

31 Days of Cinema, Day Twenty-Five: “Eternity and a Day”