Eternity and a Day

Greece/France/Italy/Germany 1998

Reviewed by John Mount


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Present-day Thessaloniki, Greece. Alexander is a terminally ill poet trying to put his affairs in order the day before he goes into a hospice. He visits his daughter and asks her to take his dog. She refuses and tells him that she and her husband have sold the family home by the sea. Memories of Alexander's beautiful wife Anna flood back from letters she wrote. While driving, Alexander helps a young Albanian child to escape arrest for illegally cleaning cars at traffic lights. Later he sees the boy abducted and rescues him from an illegal adoption ring.

Alexander decides to return the boy to Albania by driving him to the border. There he realises the boy has a better chance in exile and returns him to Thessaloniki. Alexander has abandoned his own writing in order to complete an unfinished poem by a great Greek poet who lived in Italy; on returning to Greece, the poet bought words from people in order to write his poems. The Albanian boy sells Alexander words to help him complete the poem. Alexander manages to find a home for his dog with his servant Urania during her son's wedding. The boy's best friend dies and Alexander attends a street kids' funeral for him. Alexander visits his mother in hospital. The boy arranges to sail from Greece. In the last hours before his departure the pair take a late-night bus trip around the town. Numerous mysterious characters, including the dead Greek poet, board and disembark the bus. The boy catches his boat and Alexander decides not to enter the hospice. Contemplating his life, he stares out to sea.


Theo Angelopoulos' favourite quotation by the modern Greek poet George Seferis is: "In the beginning was the journey." In his latest film he seems to be saying that at the end is the journey also. Eternity and a Day is an exquisitely poised film in which the narrative tension derives from a dying poet's decision to postpone his preparations for death in order to involve himself in the problems of an Albanian child refugee. Ironically, the poet's experiences of the grim realities of contemporary Europe and the friendship that grows between him and the child lead him to a better understanding of his own internal exile as a dislocated observer of Greece and his own life. At the same time, his semi-articulate communication with the boy brings him closer to the poem he is trying to complete.

The pairing of an elderly man and an uprooted child has been frequently used in recent European cinema (Kolya, for example) to explore the troubles in the Balkans and the problems of formerly Communist Eastern Europe. In Angelopoulos' hands, the trope seems to represent a need to square the past with the future by looking at the fates of those on the receiving end of obdurate new nationalistic doctrines. Since the 80s Angelopoulos' films have shifted their focus from the examination of groups and the particularities of Greek history to the more universalised thematic approach of the chronicling of a single protagonist's travails in a wider, disintegrating Europe. Although Angelopoulos has expressed his disaffection with political activism, he still wishes to engage with what goes on around him.

In these later films he has used foreign actors such as Marcello Mastroianni and Harvey Keitel to play his troubled Greek artists. Bruno Ganz, whose past roles include detached witnesses in Alain Tanner's In the White City and Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, is an inspired choice for Eternity and a Day. Slowly being sculpted by time into a beautiful older man, Ganz brings a tender, melancholy presence to the film, despite the fact his dialogue is dubbed. (Given Angelopoulos' preference for oblique angles and partially obscured profile shots - what David Bordwell calls "dorsality" - the dubbing remains discreet.)

Angelopoulos is a remarkably consistent director with a rigorous, modernist aesthetic. Made with such longtime creative partners as director of photography Giorgos Arvanitis, composer Eleni Karaindrou and script collaborator Tonino Guerra (also a writing partner of Antonioni), Eternity is permeated with Angelopoulos' socially committed and humane vision. For the most part the film is bathed in cool, opalescent light and muted colours which contrast sharply with warm, richly hued scenes from the writer's past that conjure up the nostalgic memory of his beautiful, beloved wife. The signature long shots and elaborate, fluid camera movements are also present. There are also some dramatic, flat-on compositions. Among the most memorable are a scene of Alexander and the child approaching a misty border crossing where living figures clenching the barbed-wire fence resemble a jagged paper chain, and a final scene of Ganz staring out to sea with his back to the camera. The sight of his crumpled ears and his tangle of damp, thinning hair produces a sublime expression of mortality and resignation. The seamless temporal shifts are also breathtaking in their simplicity and fluency as Ganz steps in and out of his past and relives moments of joy he had underestimated or simply forgotten.

Angelopoulos doggedly pursues an undervalued cinematic objective: to create time and space for an audience to think and ask themselves questions during his films. This is the antithesis of most contemporary mainstream cinema where the goal is to fill the audience with sensations and emotional excess, holding back reasoning at all costs. What's most fascinating about this beautiful and touching film is the way the protagonist's conundrum reflects Angelopoulos' own challenge as a film-maker. By making art from life and living as an artist, the opportunity to experience the world in an unmediated manner and to participate unselfconsciously in it is lost. It's possible the rigorous formal system Angelopoulos imposes to express his concerns may, ultimately, cause the object of his attention to recede and become more elusive. For all that, the quiet, hypnotic intensity of the cinematic journey one experiences in Eternity and a Day is a rare and lasting pleasure.


Fibi Ikonomopoulou
Theo Angelopoulos
Script Collaborators
Tonino Guerra
Petros Markaris
Based on an idea by
Theo Angelopoulos
Directors of Photography
Giorgos Arvanitis
Andreas Sinanos
Giannis Tsitsopoulos
Production Designers
Giorgos Ziakas
Kostas Dimitriadis
Eleni Karaindrou
©Theo Angelopoulos
Production Companies
Theo Angelopoulos/Eric Heumann/Giorgio Silvagni/Amedeo Pagani and the Elliniko Kentro Kinimatographou present a Theo Angelopoulos/E.K.K./ET1/Paradis Films Srl/Intermedias S.A./La Sept Cinéma production with the assistance of Canal+/Classic Srl/Istituto Luce and with W.D.R. and Arte with the support of Eurimages
Arte Associate Producer
Martin Wiebel
Production Managers
Lefteris Harontis
Nikos Sekeris
Unit Production Manager
Stefanos Danilhidis
Assistant Director
Takis Katchelis
Alexandros Lambridis
Special Effects
Manolis Sakadakis
Giorgos Patsas
Giannis Pamoukis
D. Th. Arvanitis
Andreas Chekouras
I Kamerata
Lucas Karytinos
Oboe Soloist:
Vangelis Kristopoulos
Clarinet Soloist:
N. Ginos
E. Kazianis
French Horn:
V. Skouras
A. Dimitriadis
Andreas Chekouras
I. Vavachikas
Folk Clarinet:
M. Halkias
Music Recording
Giannis Smyrnaios
"Asma Asmaton" by Mikis Theodorakis, Iacobou Kambanelis; "Tis Agapis Asmata" by Mikis
Theodorakis, Odyssea Eliti; "Panselinos o Erotas" by Eleni Karaindrou, K.H. Myri, performed by Haris Alexiou
Nikos Papadimitriou
Sound Mixer
Kostas Varybopiotis
Vassilis Seimenis
Bruno Ganz
Fabrizio Bentivoglio
the poet
Isabelle Renauld
Ahilleas Skevis
the child
Despina Bebedeli
Eleni Gerasimidou
Iris Hadjantoniou
Petros Fyssoun
voice of Alexander
Pemi Zouni
voice of Anna
K. Sahinidis
K. Chiamidis
wedding singers
Th. Papadimitriou
P. Pappas
Th. Asteridis
coach singers
Giorgos Popov
Dimitris Photsinos-Safrantsas
Giorgos Halaris
Themis Gousoulis
Alexandra Ladikou
Nikos Kouros
Alekos Oudinotis
Nikos Kolovos
Michalis Giannatos
Leonidas Vardaros
Vasilia Kavouka
Petros Markaris
Melpo Lekatsa
Giannis Karabinis
Maria Hadjioannidou
Andreas Chekouras
Giannis Mochlas
Maria Saltiri
Makis Pappas
Tania Paliologou
Aristotelis Aposkitis
Ronny Gianniari
Panos Papagiorgopoulos
Maria Koskina
Thodoros Chalouhidis
Thodoros Technedsidis
Lazaros Andreou
Christos Sougaris
Giannis Papadopoulos
Gianni Giannakidou
Argiris Kesoglou
Melpomeni Choulou
Gianni Mitsoiu
Petros Patses
Artificial Eye Film Company
11,966 feet
132 minutes 57 seconds
Dolby stereo SR
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011