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TRAVELLING PLAYERS, THE (THIASSOS, O)(director/writer: Theo Angelopoulos; cinematographer: Ghiorgos Arvanitis; editor: Takis Davlopoulos; cast: Eva Kotamanidou (Elektra), Petros Zarkadis (Orestes), Maria Vassilou (Chrysothemis), Stratos Pahis (Elektra’s Father), Aliki Georgouli (Elektra’s Mother); Runtime: 230; George Papalios; 1975-Greece)
“You can feel the pulse of the times through the music and realize by the liveliness of the music when the big events are happening to the people of Greece.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Daringly enough, this leftist sympathizing political drama was made during the remaining days of the rightist Colonels’ regime. It is one of those extra long (230-minutes) and slowly paced films, that is a chore to stay tuned into. One deserves to get a C in audience 101, for just remaining awake. It doesn’t help that the characters are not appealing and do not draw us into their story. History is mixed in with the loose telling of Aeschylus’ Oresteia tragedies–characters are even named Orestes, Electra, and Chrysothemis. Its lesson in modern Greek history goes from 1936-1952 as a traveling actor troupe performs a single folk play, Golfo the Shepherdess, in different towns all over Greece. We see them in towns that appear to be shabby and depressing, as the years and the political climate keep changing. The times reflect the changes in Greece: with Nazis, WW11, Axis Occupation, civil war (between the Right and Left wings), British Occupation, and the impending election of Marshal Papagos, representing a military monarchist regime. He is the one who defeated the left-wing during the civil war. Things certainly look glum; the only cheer comes from the actors, as they are transported through the far-out regions of Greece and sing their rhythmic songs of freedom, love, and sadness with a dignity and verve that enraptures the film with a very moving mood. You can feel the pulse of the times through the music and realize by the liveliness of the music when the big events are happening to the people of Greece.

The film assumes a lot for a foreign audience, that they would be knowledgeable about Greek political happenings and of the Greek tragedies and of its history. The modern Greek history of betrayal, revenge, and redemption are both the subtle and underlying themes of the story, as seen through the eyes of the weary acting troupe.

The film begins in 1952, in the town of Aegion, where the acting troupe visited last in 1939. The actors get caught up in the political manifestations themselves, as the film traces what happened to the troupe in the past: the wife of the troupe’s leader takes a fascist lover and has a bastard child, while the leftist husband goes off to fight in the war. Their son Orestes is being buried in 1952, after he became a rebel soldier who died in prison. In the most moving scene of the film, the actors bury him and as he is put into the ground they start applauding him for the life he lived; it is as if they were saying, what a performance you gave in life.

Most of the film was unfortunately not as stimulating and was too trying a task to follow in all its different kind of historical rejoinders, even though this is a worthy film uniquely bringing real life into focus. There is no doubt about it this is a Theo Angelopoulos film, not relying on cohesiveness of plot or dialogue to tell its story. His camera moves around for many different and enticing angle shots but his takes go on forever, touching every little gesture and staying with them for minutes at a time without any action taking place. This makes the film a very difficult watch for most non-Greeks.

The highly stylized scene in a restaurant-bar, best caught the feelings of the two opposing sides in the civil war and of those who just tried to remain neutral. The leftist were unarmed, seemed jovial, and danced with their women; while the rightist all wore their hats with the brim covering their eyes and danced with the men, and fired their guns in the air. They were the menacing winners. The neutrals just tried to please those in charge at the time and were represented by the restaurant owners and the entertainers, who sang what was favored by those in charge.

Theo Angelopoulos is a great filmmaker, but this first feature of his to achieve international recognition is not a great film as much as it is a necessary one. It is about modern Greek history and its political intrigues. “Travelling Players” is relevant because it describes how modern Greece is politically divided and gives us a chance to see how overreaching and meddling the British and the Americans are when viewed by the Greek left-wing. It is, also, the story of the Communist’s failure to gain control of the country, and the implications there are for a state that stays in power by suppressing its people. My hat is off to anyone who can say they were enthralled with this entire film not the pieces of it here and there, like I was.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”