The Travelling Players (Theodoros Angelopoulos, 1975)
A group of theater actors are traveling in Greece to try to perform the erotic tale of Golfo. With this 230 minutes film Theodoros Angelopoulos, who was a film critic in Greece for a socialist journal, directs his third feature film that tries to summarize in episodic vignettes some of the most important moments of the History of Greece in the 20th Century. The rise of the Nazis, the Occupation, the presence of the Englishmen, the rise of the leftist governement, etc. It is a very political movie that wants to be a representation of a particualr time. Much like Federico Fellini’s Amarcord, Angelopoulos’ film doesn’t have a distinct narrative and the almost documentary feeling of the whole thing brings a genuine historical angle to the events pictured.
The scenes are often played in one long take with sometimes a stationary camera while other shots are very complex and often still roll after the action has finished on the screen. This gives a time to the viewer to actually digest every element that has been presented. Angelopoulos’ mise en scène inspired many of his contemporaries and was recognized and highly praised in the International Film community. Respectable cinephile and masterful director, Martin Scorsese was one of his most famous admirators. He stated that Angelopoulos’ vision was unique and that his carefully composed scenes offered a hypnotic, sweeping, and profoundly emotional cinema.
Being an enthusiast of Scorsese’s work, I was more than happy to discover one of his many beloved films. But sometimes, we don’t necessarily appreciate exactly the same films or directors that our friends, favourite directors, critics, bloggers would have. In this line of thoughts I must admit that I had a big disappointment towards my watching of The Traveling Players. History is one of my interests and it is obvious that I like to spice my reviews with some context and historical facts. With the film’s overture I thought I would greatly enjoy the film and its content since it studies the story of the 20th Century, my favorite period in History. Instead of attracting me, the kind of detachment that Angelopoulos’ film has towards its subject was one of the many elements that threw me back a little. Because this detachment wants the film to be objective it lets us discover the director’s obvious penchant for socialism and his social critic of the History of his native land. Effectively, just as Scorsese highlights, Angelopoulos had a very unique sensivity and I believe that it takes lots of to fully understand the subtle vignettes represented in this movie. It is a bold film and very audacious because it not just sums up major events in Greece History but also puts a story of the people who lived in this context. As facing today’s Greece’s economic struggles, it is even more appealing to the modern day watcher to have a glimpse of this country’s political movements.
With all that said, the epic lenght of The Traveling Players reminds that only parts, here and there, of a country can be reprensented in a feature film. History engulfs so many points of views and causes and consequences that being episodic might not be the best angle to attack such an enormous task. This is why at the end that we feel that we have just parts of the whole picture.