Topio stin omihli (1988)


(director/writer: Theo Angelopoulos; screenwriters: Tonino Guerra/Thanassis Valtinos; cinematographer: Georges Arvanitis; editor: Yannis Tsitsopoulos; cast: Michalis Zeke (Alexandre), Tania Palaiologou (Voula), Stratos Tzortzoglou (Oreste), Vassilis Kolovos (Truck driver), Dimitris Kaberidis (Uncle); Runtime: 124; Artificial Eye/Paradis Films/ET-1; 1988-Greece)

“It is meant to haunt us.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

‘None of us know where we are going’ could be the theme for this road movie, which is more intense and somber than most other movies of this ilk. The plot is very simple — a small boy and a slightly older girl want to go to their father, whom their Greek mother told them is living in Germany. They don’t know his name or have his address, or for that matter know if he really exists; yet, one day they steal aboard a train and are heading north, through the Greek countryside, their destination being Germany. Trains are always mysterious places for travelers, they take on their own strange landscape. This Greek travelogue is definitely not a touristy one, the itinerary is frightening, the barren landscapes are eerie, and the mood is strikingly joyless. These kids are living in a dream world, seeing in their dreams a father they never knew but deeply yearn for. When they are caught by the conductor as possible runaways and are turned over to the authorities, all they manage to say is that they are going to their uncle’s place. It turns out that they do have an uncle in this small-town; but, when the uncle meets with the police, he tells them that he can’t take responsibility for these kids that his sister lied to them about their father because she didn’t want to tell them that they were illegitimate. The little girl overhears this but refuses to believe it, running away with the boy as they continue hitchhiking north.

The children are picked up by a miserable truck driver and are subject to his depravity, with the girl raped. Their dreamlike odyssey, nevertheless, continuing northward. One of the more interesting and better people they meet is Orestes, a young man on a motorcycle, a roadie for an acting troupe, a loner about to go into the army. He becomes a father figure, his silence and mythic presence is a tower of strength to the frightened and lost kids who still can’t open up and tell him where they are going; they can only tell him that they are heading north. Orestes vows to help them get on the train, as he sees that as his special mission. His youth can be viewed in contrast to the old country dying around him. His goodness and restlessness represents the hope of the country. The north represents the unknown, a place of childhood fantasies.

The implied question asked is why carry on, if it is impossible to reach where you are going? The subtle answer, probably, is that what lies beyond the mist is something to believe in, even if you can’t see it.

The camera work is stupendous, capturing the dreamlike quality of the film. We witness a wedding in the snow, a giant sculptured hand of creation being lifted out of the sea by a crane, and the innocent kids gazing out at an incomprehensible world. The mood is so harsh, biblical in scope, that when it asks the question in its voice-over, “If I were to shout, who would hear me?” We are left speechless, knowing that the poor kids, whose plight tugs at our heartstrings, will not be given an easy way out of their predicament. This film is not a soapy Hollywood production. It is meant to haunt us, to make us ask questions that we cannot easily answer. In the end, the children are left alone with no one to trust but themselves, as the world proves to be a dark place. Out of fear, Alexander grasps Voula’s hand and the words on the screen say, “In the beginning there was the dark…and the light was divided from the darkness.” The film ends on that biblical note, as the abandoned kids are alone in this world, searching for a father who does not exist for them.