Ulysses’ Gaze (1995), Theo Angelopoulos

"Not since The Travelling Players had Angelopoulos created such a complete parallel universe in film, a meta-narrative of culture and politics spanning frontiers and generations. It is a kind of cinema fusing story and history, terms tracing their etymology to the Greek istoria, and thus vies with and reflects upon the route of history itself. Whereas the 1975 film had contemplated a recent history from 1939 to 1952, Ulysses’ Gaze is set in the present, 1995, from which it unpeels the layers of the past. Hervey Keitel’s route across dangerous frontiers follows the route the film had taken in an earlier generation, and ends in Sarajevo with tragic consequences. His journey through space is also a journey through time, forwards and backwards.

Without a cut, Keitel travels back at the Bulgarian frontier to the time of the Manakis brothers and doubles in his imagination as Yannis, the political intriguer who is interrogated and about to be shot. Later, without a cut, Keitel is greeted at Bucharest station by his mother welcoming him to the new post-war Romania of 1945, the literal portrait of an artist as a young boy, imagining himself back into childhood. The sequence shows Keitel leaving his lover and alighting from a 1995 train carriage, then returning with his mother through the same door to an adjacent 1945 carriage to take them to Constanza on the Black Sea. When they arrive at the family home, the next sequence-shot frames successive New Year’s Eve celebrations after the war, again without a cut, during which relatives and furniture are spirited away by the secret police as a signal for their impending departure to Greece. In the same sequence the film turns Keitel’s homecoming into his family’s forced departure, which is itself a kind of homecoming as they prepare to return to Greece.”

- John Orr, The Art and Politics of Film


Ulysses’ Gaze (1995), Theo Angelopoulos

"In many ways, Angelopoulos’s fascination with some accounting of and for history as crossed with culture and myth is a study in the nature and dangers of the violent abuse of power. Put another way, all of his films suggest the dangers of a lack of tolerance and encourage acceptance of diversity in beliefs, attitudes, practices. Beginning with a close look at the rigidity of village morality in Reconstruction and continuing with a depiction of various forms of fascism in The Travelling Players, Angelopoulos has shown, in each work, how so much suffering has been caused by a failure to reach out and accept or attempt to understand difference. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his most recent film, Ulysses’ Gaze, which takes us to the heart of some of the most disturbing trouble of our times: Sarajevo, Bosnia, and the fierce struggle for survival in the midst of hatreds that appear to transcend all value systems.”

- Andrew Horton, 1999

Ulysses’ Gaze (1995), Theo Angelopoulos

"Vengos climbs up on a low wall to feed nature a biscuit. Through this absurd gesture, Vengos marks a new departure, which is in keeping with the film’s repeated echo of the last line from T. S. Elliot’s "East Coker," that, "in the end is my beginning." As "A" climbs up and stands by Vengos’s side, the pair look far out into the distance for traces of that new beginning.

This scene captures well Greece’s position near the end of the twentieth century, when the nation was challenged to reposition and reform itself in a new international environment, “a new world order.” In characteristic long-shot views, Angelopoulos depicts the two still figures, seen from the rear, framed by immense snowy landscape. In typical Angelopoulos fashion, “the image goes still. It becomes a dead space which invites the viewer to linger over previous developments, to wait for something new to modify the stasis, or simply to contemplate a mood of expressive vacancy.” (David Bordwell)

The viewer is caught in the tensile energy of the foreground and a vanishing point beyond it. It is unclear whether nature will reciprocate and give back in return for the biscuit that Vengos has offered it. In the Romantic sense, Angelopoulos breaks the dramatic rhythm with self-conscious pictorialism, stressing the phenomenological interaction between inner and outer worlds, where nature is loaded with political and cultural values. For the great Romantics, Wordsworth and Coleridge, the sublime was located between the Lake District and the Alps. Angelopoulos finds it in the space between the Greece that is dying, the Balkan world in the making, and a great and wondrous beyond that lies far off into infinity. He seeks out a new vision between the creative bankruptcy of “A” and the rejuvenating clear-eyed “first gaze” of the Manakis brothers, who embody the potentialities of a new age and vision. Together, the two figures survey this “Balkan prospect” in silence.”

- The Balkan Prospect: Identity, Culture, and Politics in Greece after 1989, Vangelis Calotychos