Eleni Karaindrou: Tous des oiseaux (ECM New Series 2634)

2634 X

Eleni Karaindrou
Tous des oiseaux

Savina Yannatou voice
Alexandros Botinis violoncello
Stella Gadedi flute
Vangelis Christopoulos oboe
Yannis Evangelatos bassoon
Dinos Hadjiiordanou accordion
Aris Dimitriadis mandolin
Maria Bildea harp
Eleni Karaindrou piano
Sokratis Sinopoulos Constantinople lyra, lute
Nikos Paraoulakis ney
Stefanos Dorbarakis kanonaki
Giorgos Kontoyannis percussion, Cretan lyra
String Orchestra
Argyro Seira concertmaster
Recorded October 2017 and January 2018 at Studio Sierra, Athens
Recording engineer: Giorgos Karyotis
Edited and mixed September 2018 by Manfred Eicher and Giorgos Karyotis
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: January 25, 2019

“Why little birdy don’t you sing
As you used to sing before?
Oh, how could I,
They had my wings severed.”

In her eleventh album for ECM, Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou gifts us with some of her most poignant music yet. Poignant because, on a political level, it intersects with issues deeply relevant to today’s social climate and, while on a personal level shifting from the Theo Angelopoulos era that quietly ushered her artistry into global imagination.

Music for the play Tous des oiseaux by Lebanese-Canadian writer Wajdi Mouawad is subject of the album’s first half. As is characteristic of Karaindrou, it’s more than incidental but a living part of the dramaturgical landscape. And despite a wide array of instruments, including string orchestra, lyra, kanonaki, oboe, harp, flute, accordion, and cello, the mood is as intimate as it should be for a play centering on the love shared between an Arab American and a German-born Jew. The latter’s Zionist father, David, despite his anger over the relationship, must deal with the revelation of his own Palestinian birth, thereby sending him into a vicious spiral of identity politics.

The drone in which opener “The Wind of War” rests is an accurate representation of that spiritual unrest, the symbolic backdrop against which this story unfolds. As with any history, if you zoom back, it seems to unify in texture. But get close enough to regard individual lives within it, and suddenly conflicts of human error become obvious. Vocalist Savina Yannatou, familiar to ECM listeners as a bandleader in her own right, sings wordlessly, here as also in “Encounter” and “The Impossible Journey”—a voice still voiceless, because it is heard from afar. Even in Yannatou’s unaccompanied “Lament,” a 13th-century Greek song, she cannot pull words from their graves. As one of three solos, along with “Towards the Unknown” for flute and “Je ne me consolerai jamais” for cello, it consigns the fate of an entire people, grazed by breath and weaponry of chance.

In “The Dark Secret” and “David’s Dream,” both for string orchestra, individuals vie subtly for attention, but are drowned by collective trauma. Time becomes timeless, a variation on a theme, just familiar enough to feel real yet off-kilter enough to illuminate mysteries of waking life. “The Confession” adds to that milieu the beat of a drum: reality calling. Like the intersection of oboe and harp in “Why?” or the lyra, ney, and kanonaki of “Between Two Worlds,” it’s a dance without ground. A love divided by self.

Music for Iranian auteur Payman Maadi’s film Bomb, A Love Story constitutes the second half. As the first film Karaindrou has scored since Angelopoulos’s death, it’s a bittersweet milestone. Using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to set in motion its narrative of self-searching, the film shows us not only that the personal is political, but also that the political is personal. Karaindrou’s soundtrack mirrors that philosophy by foregrounding the bassoon of Yannis Evangelatos, whose instrument—a marginal one in the woodwind family—echoes the marginality of the film’s characters. In this instance, the orchestra serves as omniscient narrator, sending shimmers of hope through “Love Theme,” in which the oboe of Vangelis Christopoulos and the piano of Karaindrou herself fall into shadow: dreams never realized. If not for that, “The Waltz of Hope” might not come across so much as a fantasy and “Lonely Lives” as truth. Further sentiments of travel (“Mitra’s Theme – Walking in Tehran”) and innocence (“Love’s First Call”) touch and part across maps of indifference. Which is why in the “Reconciliation Theme” we find the most instruments deployed at once, recalling the richness of Angelopoulos’s character studies. Only now that mist has been lifted, exposing figures whose every feature cries with vivid detail.

Eleni Karaindrou: David (ECM New Series 2221)

David

Eleni Karaindrou
David

Kim Kashkashian viola
Irini Karagianni mezzo-soprano
Tassis Christoyannopoulos baritone
Vangelis Christopoulos oboe
Stella Gadedi flute
Marie-Cécile Boulard clarinet
Sonia Pisk bassoon
Vangelis Skouras French horn
Sokratis Anthis trumpet
Maria Bildea harp
Katerina Ktona harpsichord
ERT Choir
Antonis Kontogeorgiou choirmaster
Camerata Orchestra
Alexandros Myrat conductor
Concert production: The Athens Concert Hall
Recorded live November 19, 2010 at Megaron (Hall of the Friends of Music), Athens
Recording engineer: Nikos Espialidis
Assistants: Bobby Blazoudakis, Alex Aretaios, and George Mathioudakis
Edited and mixed March 2016 by Manfred Eicher and Nikos Espialidis
Mastering engineer: Peter DePian
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: November 18, 2016

The theatrical text of Davidcomes to us by way of an anonymous poet from Chios Island. After its rediscovery, it was published in 1979 in a critical edition by Thomas Papadopoulos of the Bibliotheca Vallicelliana, and premiered with music by Eleni Karaindrou the following year. Here it is documented in full from a performance in November 2010, given as part of a three-day celebration in honor of Karaindrou and her work.

Despite a Catholic sheen, Davidis sprinkled with comic touches, popular locutions, and lyricism, as many such stage dramas would have been in the 18th century when it was written. The “Overture” opens the door into a characteristically three-dimensional world. Between the pointillist harp (Maria Bildea) and legato viola (Kim Kashkashian), it describes enough space for the orchestra, flute, harpsichord, and oboe to leave their traces across the sky in a message—as yet wordless—that renders the world beneath it a tesseract for moral transfigurations. From this garden emerges the instrumental flowers of “Repentance” and “Compassion,” which together reveal a pasture dotted with the footsteps of our titular protagonist. The first blush of song comes in the form of “Devils.” In this indulgent tune, baritoneTassis Christoyannopolous frolics through an itinerary of exuberant accomplishments, thus shoring up a house of words against the winds of change about to blow. Through deft use of choir, which magnifies his self-inflation, Karaindrou mirrors the feel of an opera buffa, rifling through scenes as if in an emotional flipbook.

“David’s Entrance” softens the landing of mezzo-soprano Irini Karagianni, whose rounded tone offers solace by contrast in “The Good Things in Life,” a somber reflection on the fleeting nature of our existence. Of all the good that passes by, she sings, may hearts latch on the residue and other virtues let go so calm and slow. This is followed by the beauties of “When I See,” in which Karagianni’s voice reveals a deeper, more dramatic palette that eerily recalls the soundtracks of Zbigniew Preisner. Equally concerned with ephemeral things, its tenderness reverberates in “David’s Lament,” wherein Christoyannopolous and choir link a chain of calls and responses, dripping with regret: Hear my dirge, o woods, listen and sorrow. And at my funeral, trees, grieve and wilt.

In “Psaltes,” the climate darkens into a vesper. Sounding like a Gregorian chant, its concern with wonders balances the depressions that precede it: May these fires burn the spirits; may the arrogance of fear now cease. After a trumpeted “Procession,” we find ourselves swaddled in the beauty of “Angel,” wherein divinely personified virtue takes flight in harp and strings: May your sweet trills make mortals awaken and studiously your company take pains to follow. Even more processional, however, is the grand “Finale.” Here the Holy Trinity is invoked as the choir marches to Jerusalem in search of grace and calmer breezes.

Although one needn’t have the translations at their disposal to enjoy its pastiche, David is best appreciated with the CD booklet in hand, so that its finer nuances leap forthright into the very place where its sounds begin and end: the center of the heart.

Eleni Karaindrou: Medea (ECM 2376)

Medea

Eleni Karaindrou
Medea

Socratis Sinopoulos Constantinople lute & lyra
Haris Lambrakis ney
Nikos Guinos clarinet
Marie-Cécile Boulard clarinet
Alexandros Katsigiannis clarinet
Giorgos Kaloudis violoncello
Andreas Katsigiannis santouri
Andreas Papas bendir
Eleni Karaindrou voice
Choir directed by Antonis Kontogeorgiou
Recorded June 2011 at Studio Sierra, Athens
Recording engineer: Giorgos Karyotis
Edited and mixed June 2013 by Manfred Eicher and Giorgos Karyotis
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Backwards to their sources the sacred rivers return,
Justice and the whole world are born once again…

Medea is the powerful follow-up release to 2001’s Trojan Women, which similarly arose out of a collaboration between composer Eleni Karaindrou and stage director Antonis Antypas. Scored for an intimate ensemble of instruments and 15-voice choir of women’s voices, it also features the composer herself singing a maternal role. The text is an adaptation into modern Greek by Giorgos Cheimonas and begs reading along even for those already familiar with the Euripides play.

Perhaps more than any other Karaindrou album, Medea feels like one seamless piece, if only because the tragedy of its unfolding is present from the beginning. Such foreshadowing prepares us for the play’s infamous infanticide while also drawing a line of empathy toward its subject, so that we might better understand the motivations of her unthinkable sacrifice. Essences of that sacrifice flow through a recurring clarinet-flute arpeggio over a landscape of windblown grass and weeping horses. The beginning, “Voyage,” is the end, and we must go backward through time in order to find the seed from which has grown the hanging tree. And as we join the “Ceremonial Procession,” lead by bendir (frame drum) and santouri (hammered dulcimer), the Constantinople lute bends its strings along the pathway as if it were walking among us. Much of what we encounter thereafter is built on a bed woven of drone, bane, and gold. Over this landscape walk individual instruments, each with a story to tell. Whether in the cello of “On The Way To Exile” and “An Unbearable Song” or the forlorn ney of “Loss,” in the turmoil-laden santouri of “A Sinister Decision” or Karaindrou’s own voice in two iterations of “Medea’s Lament,” a wick of heartbreak burns the candle of Medea’s story from both ends.

Gluing chapters together are the five choruses. With titles such as “Do not Kill Your Children” and “Silence,” their transformation from admonishment to resignation clearly mirrors Medea’s own. The rhythmic undercurrents of these portions speak like a genetic revival, a calling of cells from within, an audible manifestation of the otherwise unknowable forces that drive souls into ruin and resurrection in kind. In these choruses, too, is the hub of Medea’s emotional circuitry, which through misted curtains guides the eyelids into closure with the strangely steady hands of grief.

Minimal in form yet epic in scope, as Karaindrou at her finest always is, Medea can only be a skeleton of itself, for bones are all we are left with by tale’s end. And while one may certainly listen to it for the music alone, even without knowledge of its storyline the feeling of remorse is overwhelming. This is music that asks us not to mourn, but to realize that the thirst of mourning is better slaked by drinking from the fountain of love, not power.

(To hear samples of Medea, click here.)

Eleni Karaindrou: Concert in Athens (ECM New Series 2220)

Concert in Athens

Eleni Karaindrou
Concert in Athens

Eleni Karaindrou piano
Kim Kashkashian viola
Jan Garbarek tenor saxophone
Vangelis Christopoulos oboe
Camerata Orchestra Alexandros Myrat conductor
Concert production: The Athens Concert Hall
Recorded live November 19, 2010 at Megaron Hall (Hall of the Friends of Music), Athens
Recording engineer: Nikos Espialidis
Editing/assistants: Bobby Blazoudakis, Peter DePian, Alex Aretaios, and George Mathioudakis
Mixed and edited March 2012 by Manfred Eicher and Nikos Espialidis
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Eleni Karaindrou’s 10th album for ECM frames the self-taught Greek composer as the subject of worthy tribute in a second live conspectus for the label. Five years have passed since the recording of Elegy of the Uprooting, also captured at Megaron Hall in Athens, and the depth of her soundings has only intensified in that period. While that former performance made obvious her intimate working relationship with late filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos by way of a large projection screen at stage rear, here the music is its own actor. Differences between the two programs are striking, with emphasis now on Karaindrou’s incidental music for theatre. Directions also play out in the featured soloists: violist Kim Kashkashian and saxophonist Jan Garbarek. Kashkashian was instrumental—in the most literal sense—in exposing international listeners to Karaindrou’s sound on the highly successful Ulysses’ Gaze . Like that perennial soundtrack, Concert in Athens is a way station on her distinctive compositional path. Garbarek makes for an equally fine companion, his salted tone tessellating every motif it embraces.

Eleni

Garbarek oversees the most brooding portions of the concert, which opens and closes with his flute-like tenoring in “Requiem for Willy Loman” and its variation. This piece, from Death of a Salesman, suspends its mournful souls like laundry without bodies to wrap. It’s a tender circle, within which further theatrical connections abound. Whether unlocking dramatic awakenings in “Invocation” (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) or matching the sway of windblown branch in “Tom’s Theme” (The Glass Menagerie), Garbarek holds these melodies to be self-evident. The same is true for the consummate “Adagio for Saxophone,” the inward spiral of which traces the album’s endearing highlight.

Kashkashian, for her part, sails closer to the coast, skirting the rim of darkness beyond the lighthouse’s purview. The strings reveal her singing patina in “Closed Roads” as if it were a jewel clasped in silver. With just a sweep of her bow, she evokes a tug of war between flesh and horizon that finds resolution only in the “Dance” from Ulysses’ Gaze. As an agent of memory, she emotes without mitigation, standing out even among the trio settings of “Laura’s Waltz” (with orchestral accompaniment) and “After Memory” (without). The latter’s braiding with Garbarek and oboist Vangelis Christopoulos is another of the performance’s focal points.

Karaindrou herself sits at the piano, laying the groundwork for much of the activity surrounding these themes. Her solo from Eternity and a Day comes second in the program, a hinge for every door thereafter. Other cinematic intersections include Landscape in the Mist and Dust of Time. In these, tension becomes an organic material, a bed of soil as ocean. On that note, there is a textuality to both this music and its sources that finds confirmation in four pieces inspired by M. Karagatsis’s novel Number Ten. Of these, “Waltz of Rain” unfolds most nostalgically, affirming yet again why Karaindrou’s oeuvre is as enduring as the relics of her homeland.

(To hear samples of Concert in Athens, click here.)

Eleni Karaindrou: Trojan Women (ECM New Series 1810)

Trojan Women

Eleni Karaindrou
Trojan Women

Socratis Sinopoulos Constantinople lyra, laouto
Christos Tsiamoulis ney, suling, outi
Panos Dimitrakopoulos kanonaki
Andreas Katsiyiannis santouri
Maria Bildea harp
Andreas Papas bendir, daouli
Veronika Iliopoulou soprano
Eleni Karaindrou
Antonis Kontogeorgiou chorus director
Recorded July 2001 at Studio Polysound, Athens
Engineer: Yiorgos Karyotis
Produced by Manfred Eicher

No human heart is set so hard
that hearing the grave music of your dirge,
your keening, would not bring tears.

The distinct approach of Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou to film sound-tracking, through ECM’s rigorous documentation of her partnership with director Theo Angelopoulos, has imbued her music with a life of its own among international audiences. All the while, Karaindrou had been nurturing an equally prolific association at home with the theatre. Her Angelopoulos in that craft has been director Antonis Antypas, with whom she has collaborated on over 20 productions for the Aplo Theatro. This album documents her incidental music for a new staging of the Euripides tragedy Trojan Women, which received its premiere at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus on August 31 and September 1, 2001.

First performed in 415 B.C., the play was a vitriolic critique of the Athenians’ then-recent attack on the island of Melos, where countless violently perished and women were sold into bondage in the name of conquering Sparta (in this the Athenians did not succeed). It is perhaps no coincidence that the word melos also means song, for singing constitutes the very flesh of this album’s limestone skeleton. Karaindrou kneads into these politics the idea that less is more. With the barest use of folk instruments—such as the Constantinople lyra, ney, santouri, and bendir—she implies a battered panorama of immense emotional congruity. Producer Manfred Eicher has lent further sanctity through his arrangement and editing of the material into its present form.

A profoundly comported scenography of touching (which is to say, tangible) melodic beauty finds particular expression through the lyra’s grasshopper song. It is a mournful, unforgettable sound, dry as a reed in summer. The harp also figures notably in the music’s rolling waves, overcoming the barrenness evoked by titles like “Terra Deserta” with oceanic depth. Its vibrations are transformations of landscape itself, silenced by their own resonance.

Trojan Stage

Much of the material on Trojan Women will sound familiar to regular Karaindrou listeners. The themes, although nominally character-specific, are melodically uniform, changing their instrumental clothing from visage to visage, thereby sounding a fluidity of purpose and choice. Unusual, and perhaps a point of contrast to nevertheless persistent indications of barrenness, is the presence of choir and a soprano soloist who only occasionally poises her lips above the waterline to spout names of the deep. Of central importance in this regard are the three stasimons (choral odes), each a vertebra of both story and music, a refraction of the rest. In them voices grow bolder, reaching epiphany in “An Ode Of Tears” and “In Vain The Sacrifices,” the latter a ring to which the former’s gaping clasp holds true. These voices do more than the traditional Greek chorus. They burgeon at stage center, relegated not to the wings but to the head and body of a flightless bird. Without wings, they think themselves into freedom, casting their minds from horizon to horizon, faster than the sun. They do not create the stars but make them brighter.

As a matter of course, the pieces are generally short (only one surpasses four minutes). In their sublime chemical suspensions of tears, blood, and determination swims a pair of eyes—one directed at us, the other elsewhere. Consequently, there is a feeling of stepping out of time in order to better understand its circumscription. Vast harmonic networks slumber in the underlying empty spaces, never stirring except in the most funerary moments. Despite the mythic sheen, the music of Trojan Women finds deeper mystery in the earth’s living subjects, which in isolation reveal the mystery of creation, both divine and mortal, far more acutely: in order to attain permanence one must be open to the fallacies of agreement.

Alternate Trojan
Alternate cover

Eleni Karaindrou: The Weeping Meadow (ECM New Series 1885)

The Weeping Meadow

Eleni Karaindrou
The Weeping Meadow

Maria Bildea harp
Konstantinos Raptis accordion
Socratis Sinopoulos constantinople lyra
Vangelis Skouras french horn
Renato Ripo violoncello
Sergiu Nastasa violin
Angelos Repapis double-bass
String Orchestra La Camerata Athens
Eleni Karaindrou piano
Antonis Kontogeorgiou choirmaster
Recorded June 2003 at Studio Polysound, Athens
Engineer: Giorgos Karyotis
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“True sailing is dead.”
–Jim Morrison

Eleni Karainrou’s music for film is more than incidental; it is genetically enmeshed in celluloid. Melodies come to her before she sees a single frame, when migrations are still conceptual, dreamed of. This explains the rawness she elicits from Theo Angelopoulos’s swaths of mist, water, and dirt in The Weeping Meadow. “She speaks the same language that I am when making a film,” the late Greek director once said, for indeed her soundtrack is anything but paraphrase. It is as much the film as the film itself, as broad of sweep and as inward of emotion as the characters in whose skin the music resonates.

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The Weeping Meadow is Part I of Angelopoulos’s uncompleted trilogy on modern Greece and spans the years 1919 through 1949. It is the portrait of a pivotal century, a coroner’s report on the body of Greece.

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Behind the camera is a nation ravaged by the Bolshevik Revolution—a force of displacement that cuts the bonds of countless citizens and sets them flying into whatever currents they can catch toward safety. The Red Army’s march on Odessa looses our main characters from the rock and goads them onward.

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Like the hand-colored postcards in the title sequence, their beloved city exists only as it was, frozen at the height of its opulence by the touch of memory.

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Writhing on the other side of Angelopoulos’s lens is interwar America, which was for many refugees a Promised Land. People believed such things out of innocence, notes Angelopoulos in a related interview, looking as they were for a way out of their poverty. The Weeping Meadow thus unfolds as a threnody of discovery, an awakening to the mutually exclusive powers of earth and sky.

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It follows the coming of age of Eleni, an orphaned foundling who falls in love with her adoptive brother Alexis, with whom she elopes after marrying his widowed father, Spyros. In the years leading up to World War II, Alexis goes to America to pursue his dreams of becoming a renowned musician, leaving Eleni to wash her tired, solemn feet in the basin of fascist repression.

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As is de rigueur in Angelopoulos’s cinema, the way he tells his stories is just as significant as the stories themselves. This is nowhere truer than in the soundtrack.

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What Karaindrou has done is to treat the film’s events as births and nurture them into being. Thus animated, they take on new flesh and politics. In this regard, the titular main theme is among the most representative of all she has written. Its seesawing melodies and river-run exposition move like the eternal dance that is her spirit. In the accordion we can hear Alexis’s aspirations, can feel a lure that stretches across the Atlantic and into the heart of his as-yet-unrequited passage.

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“Theme of the uprooting” shines harp with cello through a prism of deeper hue. It is one of many intimate pairings throughout the program, each an expression of Eleni and Alexis splashed across the atlas of time to which they are ever subordinate.

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This sensation of helplessness turns visceral through the voiceover, which marks what we are about to see as choreography on a vast stage. “Scene 1,” the voice begins, establishing a self-aware, non-diegetic world in which we are but fleeting, curious spectators. Along the banks of Thessaloniki—“a wound that will not heal”—a mass of humanity approaches, torn yet regardful. Life as they once knew it is gone, as threadbare and uncertain as they are.

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“Waiting” holds true to this tension, wrapping its wings around Eleni’s unfathomable resolve, which liquefies in her arrest. As water drips from her hands like tears (an image that recurs in the trilogy’s second part, The Dust of Time), she becomes life itself, percolating through crack of stone and pocket of soil into the earth’s molten core.

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Eleni’s twin soul resides in “The tree,” another recurring melody that stands as the only reminder of community. Its lachrymose branches have shed their leaves long ago. In their place are strains of accordion, piano, and lyra…fish swimming in murky waters. The single tree is a living cipher, a leitmotif akin to the sapling in Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice. Although more often looming in the distance of the refugees’ makeshift settlement…

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…up close it is ornamented with animal carcasses: not an omen of what will be, but of what might have been.

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When the settlement is flooded and puts those nomadic hearts back on the line, it weeps in their absence. For as democracy commits suicide all around them, its roots are the only ones left.

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“Young man’s theme” is another of the soundtrack’s more character-driven pieces. Its interlocking circles of accordion, lyra, and harp weave a thinly veiled portrait of the film’s love triangle, which like an all-seeing eye penetrates the viewer in return. That gaze is as prolific as it is omnipresent. From the long pan over riverbanks worn by wheel of cart and sole of shoe to the silent epidemic that offers Alexis’s mother to the talons of a bird of deathly shade, it watches until things drown. It reminds us that Alexis has already wounded Eleni with a family she can never have (when we encounter her as a teenager her twin boys, born in secret, have already been adopted out). Upon her return, Alexis goes to Eleni in the night and asks her, “Remember when we used to say we’d follow the river to the find the source?” He is too young to realize that Eleni has been that source all along. Although they have shared a moment through the window, separated by songs of men, being together means that some form of shattering is inevitable.

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That each of the above themes has its variations reminds us that constellations are never fixed. They are the changing of the guard from day into dusk, an enigmatic realization of that unflagging gaze. All of which makes the standalone pieces glow with their potency of message.

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Anchored by a violin solo that invokes Karaindrou’s theme for Ulysses’ Gaze, “Memories” caresses the garments of a loved one who has passed. Here we find pause and reflection for the wayfaring mind. The quiet tide of strings barely touches the shore before an emotional sponge dabs it away as if it were but a tear on the face of an immeasurable deity.

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“On the road” spins an even more reflective pathos, its wheels turning in search of traction and finding it only the choir of “Prayer.” Therein lies the film’s most abrasive benediction. It weeps neither for itself nor for us, but for those who do not know, those we can never know, those without name in places without time. It encompasses Eleni’s resilience tenfold: her spying on the twin boys, drawn into a web at conservatory; her flight with Alexis into the shelter of a sympathetic theater troupe, and Spyros’s vengeful shame at knowing his pride is lost; the final dance before Spyros collapses, never to breathe again; his watery pyre, floating somewhere between the fantasy he could never endure and the reality that substitutes his existence with sticks and decay.

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Simply calling Karaindrou’s sound-world “cinematic” is as misguided as calling the sky blue, for it too fades to black when the day is over. Despite its fictional ties, its shapes are as real as the musicians who bring it to life. It is, rather, an amorphous body of tears and gestures, the departing ship that pulls Alexis and Eleni apart.

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A red thread is all that connects, the unraveling of an unfinished garment.

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After it falls into the ocean, and with it the promise of balance, Eleni returns to the old house, ruined, in the water.

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Its voices have washed away. Eleni has been washed away. Everything has been washed away.

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Alternate covers:
Alternate Weeping 1

Alternate Weeping 2

Eleni Karaindrou: Dust of Time (ECM New Series 2070)

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The Dust of Time is the last film of Theo Angelopoulos, a status it attained only after the Greek filmmaker unexpectedly disappeared from the mortal landscape in 2012. This film was the second in a trilogy begun with The Weeping Meadow and set to be completed by The Other Sea, in production at the time of his passing. It is at once his most complex and simplest film. Because it is his last, we may feel tempted to see it as the capstone to his oeuvre, a summary and reflection of things past. We might also experience it as an inception, a regression into birth.

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“Nothing ended. Nothing ever ends.” The voice of our protagonist. As in Ulysses’ Gaze, his name is A (Willem Dafoe), this time a director making a film about his parents’ perseverance in the post-Stalinist era. Sweeping through Italy, Germany, Russia, Kazakhstan, Canada, and the US, its manifold narratives take shape through soft address. A for anonymous. A for atrophy. A for apotheosis.

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The film works on multiple levels. One finds A in the backwash of the tense politics that so fascinate him. His own film faces logistical difficulties, the weight of which, when combined with that of personal demons, seeks to break him. His anxieties shuffle into level two: his parents’ tale. Here the reality of cinema comes to life, indistinguishable from A’s own.

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A clandestine exchange on a train introduces us to his father, Spyros (Michel Piccoli), whose twisting of the system has earned him an identity and the chance to see his beloved again.

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A man hands him a fake passport: “From now on, you’re playing with time.” Words to live by for A in the present, and a clue into the film’s title. Like the coating on old stock, dust plays with the imagery of our experiences in microscopic dances of light and shadow, holds those experiences like a bottle holds wine. As A watches archival footage of communist propaganda, a patch of light covers his eyes like a protective mask.

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As in so many moments of what follows, he bleeds into the biography he imagines. Witness in that alternate time his mother, Eleni (Irène Jacob). See the many border crossings etched into her face, the force of her abandon in the arms of the only other human being on her radar.

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“It’s you. You’re here,” she says to Spyros, holding him at long last.

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At the station, a crowd gathers before a statue of Stalin, disperses, and leaves us dangling in A’s pragmatic concerns.

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He surveys the margins of a soundtrack rehearsal, thus enacting one of Angelopoulos’s deepest intertextual sequences. Dafoe cues a melody for a dance in the film (a dance that comes later, in the comfort of water).

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Although I hesitate to compare Angelopoulos to Tarkovsky, I cannot help but see the ringing phone that interrupts the rehearsal as an analogue to the unexpected call that startles the heart of the Zone in Stalker. Dafoe answers it, only to be confronted with voiceless street noise. He hopes it is his daughter, also named Eleni, and fills the studio with her name in vain. He returns home to find his daughter missing, and on her bed his mother’s lost letter to Spyros.

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Back in their story, Spyros and Eleni are captured in the wake of their lovemaking, leaving only tire tracks and brokenness to show for their catharsis.

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This inspires a series of letters that she knows will never reach him. She flees to Siberia with their son and puts him on a train to Moscow in the winter of 1956.

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Her heart allows room for Jacob (Bruno Ganz), a man whose head is a museum of broken statues: monuments whose bodies have dilapidated yet whose messages resound.

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A’s daughter’s room is the physical equivalent. She has plastered her walls with heads of popular culture, each a window into aural upheaval and antidisestablishmentarian politic.

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Like the soundscape that wafts in from the streets, they carry echoes of lost music, giving reason to a “strange anticipation” in A’s weary body. Together they are the song of a city greeting the new century. Later A stands before a movie theater, and in that moment realizes that his daughter’s collage is like the cinematic pantheon of which he is but a lost builder.

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“For me there is no return. My destiny takes me somewhere else,” says Eleni to Jacob. She tells him to let her go, that no matter what happened between them she is someone else’s. Yet Jacob yearns for that return and finds its simulacrum decades later when Eleni and Spyros surprise A with a homecoming. It rings strangely hollow, however, and Jacob arrives in the hopes of reigniting what once so fleetingly was. (In a brief encounter, A admits to him, “I’m constantly traveling. Sometimes I don’t even know where I am.”) Jacob bears his soul to Eleni, invites her to touch the images burned into his mind. The trauma wells up in him. He raises his voice, as if he were onstage. He makes of life a theatre, replays scenes like an obsessed director.

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Only with this emotional breach does A gain access to his mother’s youth, finding her in the mist in violent embrace. The camera revolves around them, as would a planet around a sun.

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The final blow for him comes when his daughter threatens to end her life. In the presence of vagabonds and police, she gives in to her grandmother’s pleading, unlike Jacob who thereafter implores an invisible God before throwing himself into a river.

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In the wake of these tribulations, A shares a ghostly moment, reflected on a passing car that bisects a line of eye contact with his ex-wife, Helga (Christiane Paul).

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As Eleni falls ill, her hand drips with water.

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At her deathbed, a great wind floods the room with the exhalations of an impending storm.

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“Eleni, wake up,” says Spyro. “I’m coming to get you.” He reaches for her.

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The girl takes his hand instead. It also drips.

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Here is where the film manifests a third level: the pliant corridor of death along which our feet will all someday tread. For as young Eleni and her grandfather step out of the window into the falling snow, we feel in their traversal of logical space an openness of reason. Hand in hand, they run through the streets, deserted like the universe.

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One can hardly discuss this film without noting Angelopoulos’s preference for back shots. Each portraits its respective character more insightfully than any close-up, and in the end shuffles our recollections until they unify.

Back shot 1 Back shot 3 Back shot 2

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A particularly moving example, however, is mother Eleni’s hair floating in the mist of her impossible reunion with A.

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She is creation incarnate, the bringer of tears where only there is desert. But what is a desert without its sky? That is where the music comes in.

Dust of Time

Eleni Karaindrou
Dust of Time

Sergiu Nastasa violin
Renato Ripo violoncello
Maria Bildea harp
Vangelis Christopoulos oboe
Spyros Kazianis bassoon
Antonis Lagos french horn
Dinos Hadjiiordanou accordion
Eleni Karaindrou piano
Camerata – Friends of Music Orchestra
Natalia Michailidou piano
Hellenic Radio Television Orchestra
Alexandros Myrat conductor
Recorded January (tracks 9 and 15) & March 2008 at Megaron, Athens, Greece
Edited and mixed July 2008

Perhaps more than in any other film, Eleni Karaindrou’s score for Dust of Time wavers in the shadows. “To write the music I had to look for the film’s secret codes,” says Angelopoulos’s trusted composer, “I had to bring the essence of things to the surface and shed intense light on the sound colors underlining the timelessness of nostalgia.” This time the instrumental colors are most intimate, honed to evocative perfection by violinist Sergiu Nastasa, cellist Renato Ripo, and harpist Maria Bildea. Hailing from Romania and Albania, this trio brings its own traditions and nuances to a permeable set of motives. Of these, the “Dance Theme” and its variations figure centrally in both film and soundtrack. It is the music we hear in the pivotal rehearsal scene, homage to Karaindrou’s voicing and intuitive matching. “Waltz by the River” crystallizes the theme’s core values, adding accordionist Dinos Hadjiiordanou into the watercolor mix. As in so many of Angelopoulous’s films, dance animates the passage of time, the degradation of history, and the preservation of memory. Karaindrou’s attention to every movement wipes clean emotional dumping grounds for tragic pasts, purges war-ravaged biographies of their blood in single strokes.

Because the soundtrack’s 45 minutes were culled from over 100 minutes of music, what we encounter is a powerful skeleton. Between the harp and violin duet of “Le Temps Perdu” and the concluding oceanic currents of “Adieu,” Karaindrou figures the power of the melody with as much tact as her arrangements thereof. Along the way, threads unravel to reveal the tumult of wandering and exile in “Seeking,” while passages like “Solitude” speak in monosyllables of enchantment.
Dreams are not beyond us. They return. Like the old reels of A’s interest, they hold their images until the light of waking passes through them anew. Every picture, every note on a staff, is a voyage waiting to begin.

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Eleni Karaindrou: Eternity and a Day (ECM New Series 1692)

“Open always, always watching, the eyes of my soul.”
–Dyonisios Solomos

The Film
An ancient city, lost beneath the ocean. The stuff of history. Time, a young voice tells us, is “a child playing jacks on the beach.” A piano wafts through the image like a breeze carrying scents and sounds of retrospection—the film’s leitmotif. Here the past functions not as a repository for memory but as a palimpsest for a mind still practicing. It is the mind of Alexander (Bruno Ganz), an aging poet whose dark trench coat cuts a crow’s wing against director Theo Angelopoulos’s wintry palette. A slow approach to a window guides us to the film’s title by way of Alexander’s boyhood. The camera follows him as if through a ghost’s eyes.

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When we first encounter Alexander as he is now, he holds a taste of the sea in his mouth…

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…and clutches his throat as if breathing were a labor. This momentary inability to get words out is both curse and blessing: an obvious malady for a man of letters, but also a release from the world’s imploration to dress its dreariness in pretty semantics.

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The sea follows Alexander. It is the tail of the dying comet that is his life. His dog looks toward that same sea, a place where music and memory are engaged in dance. A terminal diagnosis looms over him (his constant pill-popping brings rhythm to the narrative), mist over a landscape of uneven hills. He feels silence encroaching and fills it with regrets of unfinished work, of “words scattered here and there.”

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Alexander welcomes a boy (Achileas Skevis)—an Albanian vagrant washing windows at stoplights for petty cash—into his car. His whim begins a final poem, a magnum opus borne of action and sacrifice that can never manifest as ink and paper but rather unspools across light and film. Yet while this charity saves the boy from capture by police and gives us the film’s first smile, it comes at the cost of ignoring the other boys into whose meager routine of survival he had fallen.

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Alexander knows the ripple effect of his actions. He feels the churning waters of time as a swallowing force. Its life-giving properties are so far removed from the here and now that it is all he can do to plunge his feet into the mud of recollection. After spending a lifetime waiting for progress, he will spend another waiting for regress. Angelopoulos’s title does not compare eternity and a day, but equates them.

As Alexander prepares to leave his everyday existence and spend his remaining days in convalescence, he brings the dog to his daughter, Katerina (Iris Chatziantoniou). The contrast between her upscale apartment and her utter yearning for a transparent ancestry are but surface to the inner sanctum of her father’s raw linguistic materials. She displays her anxieties among the art objects of her living room, where a wall catches the circumference of a projected clock. As the film’s symbol par excellence, it hovers like a dedication page torn from its binding and pasted where a window might be. In this manner Katerina turns her glitches into quantifiable space.

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During this visit we learn that Alexander is completing an unfinished 19th-century epic by Dyonisios Solomos. “The Free Beseiged,” as it is known, is mired in the Greek War of Independence, from which it draws blood to fill its pen. Alexander has been working on the project since the death of his wife, Anna (Isabelle Renauld), who comes to us in flashbacks. And while Katerina may not understand why her father would ever wish to graft his words onto another’s, she flows through him like the returning sea when he gives her letters written in her mother’s hand. Through her reading, Alexander is read anew, revitalized as if by the boy whose fate he has influenced.

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The sea is a trance, pillow of scent-filled houses. Sleep and silence cohabit its ever-changing shoreline. Through her daughter’s voice, a resurrected Anna links newfound maternity with love, safety, and breath. The vulnerability of her body engenders absolute trust in, and safety for, her blossoming child. For Katerina is indeed a flower, the center of a family gathering in the sunlit prime of a warmer era. Even in life, Anna was constantly on the verge of dissolving, a wanderer in love. Alexander is moved beyond comfort, for he knows that his dissolution will bring him closer.

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Like all reveries, this one is all the more poignant for its brevity and it is Katerina’s husband who breaks its spell. Put off by the presence of what in his eyes can be nothing more than a haggard vagabond, he tells Alexander he has sold the old house by the sea—the very house where Katerina tumbled into maturity—and that it will be demolished. He also takes unkindly to animals and questions any obligation to welcome the dog into his home.

The streets, paved in articulate indifference, keep Alexander in check. They are the insignia of a publisher far grander than anything he can contemplate with his ties to speech. In opening himself to a stranger, Alexander realizes he has found in the boy a beacon—not of hope, but of evenness. This balance is upset when he witnesses the boy being thrown into the back of a cargo truck.

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He follows the vehicle to a shady warehouse where other urchins have been plucked from their rocks and are being sold into an invisible market. The boys, however, are wise to this and make a run for it in a ballet of quick thinking and broken glass.

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In the ensuing chaos, Alexander saves the boy of his interest, giving all the money on his person in exchange. He puts the boy on a bus going toward the Albanian border, both in the hopes of losing him before he loses himself and in the hopes that there might be a home to return to.

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The boy comes back to Alexander, having found a home in presence of the bearded stranger. He sings a children’s song from his homeland, tells Alexander of crossing the border, thereby revealing a likeminded fixation on language. Alexander takes him to the border, but they run when the boy tells him he has no one.

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Alexander tells him the story of the poet Solomos (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), Greek but raised in Italy, who returned to his homeland when he heard the Greeks were rising against the Ottomans. He does not speak the language, and so he buys words from the locals. Across a night “sown with magic” he travels, reaching deep into his reservoir of sentiments to produce the “Hymn to Liberty.” It remains a significant verse for Alexander, a bid for freedom from language, through language.

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In the end, he entrusts the dog to his housekeeper, Urania (Helene Gerasimidou), interrupting her son’s wedding to do so. Spectators hanging from the gates mirror those at the border, each a living puppet frozen in the wake of a changing tide.

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This leaves the boy, Alexander’s only link, his only mirror. “You’re smiling, but I know you’re sad,” the boy tells him. Such contradictions—in the end, not really contradictions at all—are essential to Angelopoulos’s cinematic world, a world where light and dark are so permeable as to be unquestionable. For while Alexander’s cape is the shadow of his deteriorating self, of a body blurring into lifelessness, it is also a flag whose communication harnesses wind like a sail.

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He is a man devoid of contact, yet who is touched by humanity; a man in self-imposed exile, yet who knows the landscape as if it were his own; a man known for words, yet who pays for them with emotional currency. The boy wants to say goodbye, but Alexander convinces him to stay, will not accept that his hand may bring about another end.

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Thus the camera looks beyond the curtain into the reflecting pool of the human condition.

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His films are unfinished, stitched yet tattered. In allowing their seams the privilege of coming undone, he delivers messages devoid of hyperbole. The zoom, for example, sheds its derivative qualities in such a context, seeking not to focus our attention so much as to remind us of limitations. As in the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, the occasional close-up shocks with its candor, reaches into the pit of our complacency and stirs up the love we have forgotten. When Alexander turns his back on us, he turns his back on the world.

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The Soundtrack
Composer Eleni Karaindrou has her finger so firmly on the pulse of Angelopoulos’s ethos that her flesh has melded with his images. Yet there is something more than the combination of sight and sound going on in Eternity and a Day, for this more than any other film she has soundtracked is an ode also to time.

Eternity and a Day

Eleni Karaindrou
Eternity and a Day

Vangelis Christopoulos oboe
Nikos Guinos clarinet
Manthos Halkias clarinet
Spyros Kazianis bassoon
Vangelis Skouras french horn
Aris Dimitriadis mandolin
Iraklis Vavatsikas accordion
Eleni Karaindrou piano
String Orchestra La Camerata Athens
Loukas Krytinos director
Recorded March and April 1998, Athens Concert Hall
Engineer: Andreas Mantopoulos and Christos Hadjistamou
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The title of the first piece, “Hearing the Time,” would seem to say as much: just as Angelopoulos puts an eye to lens, so too Karaindrou puts an ear to history. She draws thick yet airy wool over our eyes, that we might view the world through the blur of fibrous experience. Over an expanse of archival strings we hear a distant relay between violin and accordion. These punctuations are not ruptures but voices from below. The composer at the keyboard elicits “By the Sea,” a humid snapshot that segues us into the mandolin accents and silken oboe line of the “Eternity Theme.” As Beethovenian cellos churn, we think back to its corresponding scene in the film, in which we find Alexander listening to this very music on the radio. He shuts off his mechanical translator and looks out across to the other apartment complex, where the same music flows from another window. “Lately” he muses, “my only contact with the world is this stranger opposite who answers me with the same music.” Perhaps true to character, he decides against pursuing this fascination: “It’s better not to know…and imagine.”

And imagine is all we can do when taking this soundtrack on its own terms. The theme echoes throughout its architecture, inflected differently by each soloist. A bassoon evokes tears colored by fate, while clarinets drip from the great beyond with tastes of once-forgotten joy. A traditional wedding dance fills the air with bright steps, contrasting almost painfully with the solitude of “Bus,” and lends relative sanctity to Ganz’s recitation in “The Poet.” Yet it is in a little piece called “Borders” that the fluidity of his embodiment is clearest. Through it we realize that harmony needs change.

Like the film itself, the score of Eternity and a Day creates a somewhere far removed from its content yet which is equally cinematic. It is a looking glass unto itself, a kaleidoscope named “then.”

Eleni Karaindrou: The Suspended Step Of The Stork (ECM 1456)

Eleni Karaindrou
The Suspended Step Of The Stork

Vangelis Christopoulos oboe
Nikos Spinoulas French horn
Andreas Tsekouras accordion
Dimitris Vraskos violin
Christos Sfetsas cello
Ada Rouva harp
Lefteris Chalkiadakis director String orchestra
Recorded April and August 1991, Polysound and Sound, Athens
Engineer: Yannis Smyrneos
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“How does one leave?”

This question haunts The Suspended Step Of The Stork, Part I of Theo Angelopoulos’s “Borders” trilogy. A film of subcutaneous power, it finds beauty where there is suffering, stark yet foggy, as if through tearful recollection. Peeling layers to the emotional center of Stork is composer Eleni Karaindrou, whose soundtracks were never so much inserted into as bled from the late Greek director’s canvases. Hers is the audio equivalent of a tracking shot, scrolling through face, space, and race with barest touch. “Refugee’s Theme” shrouds the credits like an overture to lives whose variations are leaves on a tree of displacement.

Of those lives we get only leitmotifs, each seeming far too short in the grander symphony of human suffering. Like the bodies floating in the opening shot, they bob at the whim of two rhythms: one natural, the other mechanical.

Helicopters and boats circle these transient martyrs, whose bodies huddle together still as they might have when still alive. Our protagonist, Alexandre (Gregory Patrikareas), a television reporter on his way from Athens to the Greek-Albanian border to do story, watches those same corpses—Asian stowaways refused political asylum by Greek authorities—and muses on the silence they represent amid all the commotion. The name of the ship from which those unfortunate souls would rather have leapt to certain death rings true: Oceanic Bird. Each has become exactly that, soaring far from the public eye on wings of salt spray and denial.

In a border town far from those waters, yet never from their ripples, a patrol Colonel (Ilias Logothetis) aids Alexandre in his search for information. Known by locals as the Waiting Room, said town plays host to refugees from Albania, Turkey, Kurdistan, among others. It is place with its own dimension, or so the Colonel asserts, a place where people lose themselves in the tide, forgetting that any such dimension is not inherent to the place, but forced upon it by politics and circumstance. It is, more to the point, a place of fear, where even the roar of the nearby river turns dreams into nightly prisons.

“Do you know what borders are?” the Colonel asks Alexandre in a key scene, as if the concept were in need of philosophical elaboration. This is the set piece he lives behind, the stage Alexandre so desperately, in his quiet way, hopes to transcend.

The Colonel lures the hapless reporter to that very line, threatening to cross it.


“If I take one more step, I’m ‘elsewhere’…or I die.”

What seems on the surface a fruitful bonding moment, a shedding of rank that leaves two men at the brink of something profound and indelible, proves just as arbitrary as the border of their shared interest. Ever ahead of his audience, Angelopoulos offsets this shadow play with an audio montage of firsthand refugee accounts. Says one, recounting the fear of being seen during his night passage, “I could never imagine that I’d ever want the moon to die.” These words cut the Colonel’s sentiments like Brie, revealing the vulnerable innards of his arrogance. We are duly reminded that the “elsewhere” of which he feigns knowledge has, for them, taken on mythical meaning. It is the asymptote to their path of travel, seen in every expression as the camera pans along a train filled with survivors. Here, Karaindrou’s “Train-Car Neighbourhood” draws a thread through each life like a bead on a necklace of hardship.

Yet perhaps no moment captures this separation of nomad and state power so heart-wrenchingly as when the Colonel berates a man for trading music across the river.

A cassette player spews popular lyrics of a better time on a small makeshift raft, which the man changes out before the player is pulled off screen.

Love is a full moon, croons Haris Alexiou from its weary speakers. It drives my body mad.

A rare close-up from Angelopoulos allies us with Alexandre, who believes he has spotted among the Waiting Room’s destitute a once-famous politician (Marcello Mastroianni). In Athens, he confronts the man’s ex-wife (Jeanne Moreau), who relates an abbreviated story of his mysterious 40-day disappearance—which indeed left him transformed upon his return—and subsequent vanishing act. She amends her brusqueness by coming to Alexandre’s home with a tape containing the last answering machine message her husband ever left, in which he admits, “I’m only a visitor.”

The woman tells Alexandre of a secret wound: “The thought that he wouldn’t share it with me was unbearable.” As the two move into the night, we realize that the cameras of reportage are now rolling, rendering her private confession into open testimony.

Alexandre searches the archives in the hopes of finding, somewhere in those tomb-like files of society’s forgotten, proof of the politician’s whereabouts. This chase leads him back to the border, and into the town’s only dance hall.

What begins as a chance to steep his thoughts in drink, however, soon funnels into a turned head, a stare from an enchanting girl (Dora Chrysikou), whose eyes now reverse the intense regard with which he has made his career back onto him.

Although he makes to leave, the girl approaches and follows him, silently, to his hotel room.

He recedes into shadow, able to touch her only as one might a rainbow.

This moment locks his resolve to get to the heart of this place, even as he (and the viewer) knows that such thinking is wishful at best. For although he does track down the politician (who we learn is the girl’s father), what he finds is the shell of a man who no longer is. Gone is the savvy figure of the spotlight. In its place is a storyteller who regales children with end time speculations.


“Forget me in the sea…”

Rather than leave this man to his own devices, Alexandre further reveals his own selfish interests when he arranges, and films, a reunion. The woman claims it is not him, retreating into the fantasy that her husband is long dead. The power of her statement resides in its duality: she is lying, but also not.

In the wake of this defeat, Alexandre suffers another when he discovers the girl of his refuge is to be married to a boy across the border. Only then does he admit to the Colonel, “The only thing I knew was to film other people without caring about their feelings.”

The ceremony must be conducted between patrols, even as that immutable river continues to roar and beckon between them.

Still, even after Alexandre’s epiphany, it falls under the watchful eye of his camera.


“We’re of the same race. I feel his hands holding me.”

It is obvious to us now, if not before, that he can never be anything more than a tourist, a refugee who can never step out of his skin. Before leaving, he pauses at the border, holding up his foot like the Colonel, a crane in contemplation.

If the ceremony is the peak of the film’s narrative mountain, then these steps at the border are its sloping sides.

Heavy on Alexandre’s mind, we can be sure, is the news that the politician has again fled across the border, blending into the trees Angelopoulos paints so artfully in our vision throughout. And it is from those trees that the telephone poles that end the film are born, rising into the heavens, their wires able to connect nations in ways that no flesh, or even love, is capable.

Even with these powerful scenes pulsing through us, the sweeping carriage of Karaindrou’s soundtrack (the 36-minute running time of which betrays a ghostly presence) digs even deeper. An affect-rich creation, it solders the stained glass window that filters the film’s fettered light. From its heaving strings to forlorn winds, the music recedes into, as quickly as it awakens from, a wavering memory. One can almost feel in slow motion the searing cords of strife robbing necks of their breath, and minds of their faith, to the pathos of governmental indifference. And while moments of hope, such as the endearing accordion of “Waltz Of The Bride,” do appear, it is the slow pall of mist and water that Angelopoulos so favors that leave the boldest impressions in our ears.

The words the politician once spoke at a parliamentary session haunt us still: “There are times when one has to be silent in order to be able to hear the music behind the sound of the rain.”

How one leaves, then, has become an empty question. In the end, all that matters is how one sounds.