TRILOGY 1: THE WEEPING MEADOW (Trilogia I: To Livadi pou dakryzei)

(director/writer: Theo Angelopoulos; screenwriters: Tonino Guerra/Petros Markaris/Giorgio Silvagni; cinematographer: Andreas Sinanos; editor: Giorgos Triantafillou; music: Eleni Karaindrou; cast: Alexandra Aidini (Eleni), Nikos Poursanidis (Young Man, Alexis ), Giorgos Armenis (Nikos the Fiddler), Vassilis Kolovos (Spyros), Eva Kotamanidou (Cassandra), Toula Stathopoulou (Woman in Coffee House), Thalia Argiriou (Danae); Runtime: 170; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Phoebe Economopoulos; New Yorker Films; 2004-Greece-in Greek with English subtitles)

“It retains that Angelopoulos magic in storytelling.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A visually stunning and poetically fine melodrama of modern Greek history (that includes references to Greek myths) by master Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos (“The Travelling Players”/”Landscape in the Mist”). But it’s overlong at 170 minutes, marred at times by clunky dialogue and lacks emotional punch. Nevertheless it overcomes these flaws because it’s so uncompromisingly Greek in its dramatics, the uplifting score by Eleni Karaindrou adds immeasurable pleasure to counter the downbeat mood and it’s filmed as pure cinema; it retains that Angelopoulos magic in storytelling and acts as a profound meditation on love, loss and fate. The Weeping Meadow is the first part of a planned historical trilogy that covers in broad sweeps the major events in Greece from 1919-1949. The trilogy is meant as the ‘mother of all his films’ for the longtime filmmaker; Angelopoulos puts his heart into it and cowrites it with Tonino Guerra, Petros Markaris and Giorgio Silvagni.

In 1919 Eleni (Alexandra Aidini) is an orphan who was adopted in Odessa by the Greek family of Spyros (Vasilis Kolovos), a leader in the Greek refugee community, who has a wife named Danae (Thalia Argiriou) and a son named Alexis (Nikos Poursanidis). The 40-year-old Spyros is the leader of a number of Greek refugees fleeing from the Bolshevik Revolution, and they cross the Thessaloniki River to settle in that area.

Eleni’s experiences become the film’s central focus as it chronicles her adventures from arriving in Greece in 1919 to 1949, the beginning of the Greek Civil War. We see her as a young unmarried girl who returns home after being sent away by her adoptive mom to a neighboring village after giving birth to twin boys, as she has become pregnant by her adoptive brother. This is kept secret from Spyros by his wife, who only tells him Eleni came down with an illness. The twins are raised by a merchant’s family. Many years later, after Spyros’s wife Danae has died, Eleni is forced into marrying her adoptive father, but she runs away on the day of the wedding with her adoptive brother and they reside in Thessaloniki. There they reclaim their twins, Yorgis and Yannis, and hook up with a vagabond band of musicians led by the fiddler Nikos (Giorgos Armenis), who recognizes Alexis as a talented accordionist. The couple see the landscape and world change around them, many social and personal upheavals, the rise of Greek fascism and the outbreak of WW II.

Its history is told in a Homeric cinematic style through stunning camera shots, a visual onslaught of the mise-en-scéne and probing elliptical dramatic sequences. It eschews intimacy (the couple are used more as props for history than as real people) for a fluid linear narrative that deliriously surprises with sometimes almost surreal images of such things as lynched sheep carcasses on a tree and the couple’s hometown Greek village flooded. The ostracized couple is looked upon as outsiders, who are forced to become wanderers in their homeland. Later Eleni is left alone and goes through much suffering that includes imprisonment and the death of the twins, as her hubby has deserted her to fight for the Allies. It reaches Greek tragedy as Eleni goes into a rant monologue over her bitter fate, but unfortunately her vapid performance can’t carry it off so it can also deeply touch the sympathetic viewer. But the filmmaker’s outrage at the hostile world and those unforgettable images … that’s another story, and that’s where the film excels if one has the patience to stick with it.