Grand Jury Prize at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, LE REGARD D’ULYSSE is a unique work, a Balkan Odyssey full of reminiscences, moments of bewilderment and timeless strolls. Faced with the force of the images, the power of the gazes and the emotion that flows into them, Theo Angelopoulos creates a film in which wandering has never been so beautiful as when it soaks in the fog.
What do we really expect from a film? Let him entertain us? That he moves us? That it gives us some chills? Whatever the emotion felt, this is perhaps the most important: the imprint – indelible – that a film leaves us. Facing REGARD D’ULYSSE of Theo Angelopoulos, the imprint was such that time almost stopped to whisper in my ear a little glimpse of what cinema can be: a journey, a long journey in the fog. This film is a meeting, a harmonious meeting between a spectator and images that seem to want to capture his gaze. Stepping into this film is a bit like slipping into bed, closing your eyes and wanting to embrace the whole world. The images are so large, so impressive, so vivid that they seem straight out of a long dream. Faced with this stroll of the gaze, difficult to know what we are really up against. We find ourselves closing our eyes for a moment. We think we can resist intoxication. If the eyelids are heavy, it is perhaps because the film itself calls for reverie, for awakening by the suspension of time, by its dilation and “falling asleep”. THE LOOK OF Ulysses, like most wanderings angelopoulosians, is a film full of emotions, subtle reflections, crossings and abandonments; it is a timeless, constant cinema, which does not seek fashion effects but more a form of timelessness.
The films ofAngelopoulos are both so calm and so tormented, so gentle and so violent. These are films that carry within them a necessity: that of living, of expressing oneself freely, of enjoying the moment, of being able to escape time by letting oneself be lulled by events. With Angelopoulos, contemplation is never in vain; it always calls for a quest for freedom, happiness, vitality. The tranquility that reigns there soothes us as much as it troubles us. What is she hiding? What is behind this thick fog? An escape from the cinema? A refusal to see the real? Or on the contrary, a desire to represent the infigurable? Whatever. You have to let yourself be carried away by the movement of the film and understand this cinema as a living organism that does not need words to show that it can live. Because the film struck me like a bomb: paralyzed in the face of the beauty emerging from the ruins, carried away by this fog that would appease almost all the horror in the world. I was moved by the magnetic presence ofHarvey Keitel, of his face which absorbs the glances and of a glance which absorbs the world. Since this modern Ulysses lives the places and their memory; he is a “sponge character” who absorbs what surrounds him. He is an anonymous person who becomes everyone; an anonymous that we are. And we feel the fatigue of our body facing the journey, a body that we drag but which always remains in motion despite the pain of tossing and the Homeric crossings.
The staging ofAngelopoulos – all of contemplative movements – also imposes a magnetism of every moment. We find a little Jacques Rivette in these long wanderings out of time and these fluid, playful and poetic camera movements; this taste for a certain theatricality of representations too. The incredible and overwhelming musical flights ofEléni Karaïndrou got the better of my fragile little heart. And this “operatic” suspension in the face of beings and things totally overwhelmed me. I then felt like a feeling of fullness. I never expected to have such a cinema experience one day. Because yes, see THE LOOK OF Ulysses, it’s a bit like I’m walking in a fog, not knowing where I’m going and not worrying about what will happen. But we always hope to be able to escape the fog, to finally see a landscape taking shape before our eyes and a tree calling us to him, to his roots, to his poetry.
Eye to eye, my gaze facing that of the film, it is a journey that I am undertaking; a journey in a memory which is not mine, and which nevertheless finds a resonance in the depths of my being. I loved, I cried, I lived thanks to this film. It’s a film so beautiful, so desperate, so alive that it constantly calls for reminiscence. And you have to see this magnificent sequence where Harvey Keitel wanders in a memory of childhood which has more a taste of reunion after a long moment of exile. Here, memories evaporate, float between spaces and wander in time. In THE LOOK OF Ulysses, we find this temporal tension, between reality and fiction, between the space of film and that of cinema; Between eternity and one day – to use the formula of the film for which he will receive the Palme d’Or in 1998 -, this title which hides in him a tension between a set of lives and a fragment of time, between a temporality that cannot be captured and a well-defined time limit, that of narration.
You have to let yourself be carried away by the movement of the film and understand this cinema as a living organism that does not need words to show that it can live.
Films that never end and which nevertheless always end up ending: if Angelopoulos creates above all films of passage (s), cuts and openings, perpetual displacements, it is also for the pleasure of initiation, of exile, of “the human adventure”; this story which never ends, and which contaminates his cinema as soon as it is Travel of the actors until sublime Landscape in the fog. THE LOOK OF Ulysses is a monumental film; monumental because it awakens a memory, ghosts, images so large that they can only be imprinted on our retina. How not to be stunned by this sequence of a boat going up a river with an imposing and “monumental” dismembered statue of Lenin on board? It’s incredible, literally; as if History inevitably ends up being dismantled, scattered and then sold in parts. I felt this imposing weight of History; and above all this capacity that the cinema has to impose a materiality, a palpable life within its very plans.
And in this period when the very future of cinema seems threatened, THE LOOK OF Ulysses finds a particular resonance: here, there is no dematerialization, quite the contrary; it is the quest for the “cinema object”, for its essence, for its lost or forgotten history, for what remains of the images in the midst of the ruins of time. This is the whole question of cinema as an object, material and palpable, living and mortal; of the search for a reel in the heart of a rancid / wandering era. This cinema is an imprint that must be tracked down until it disappears into the fog. In this quest for a lost, misguided innocence, it is always a question of saving cinema from loss, oblivion, destruction. It is a cinema of research, of nostalgia – not to say of Nostalghia – pursuit of something; whether it is a father in Landscape in the fog or another “father” in THE LOOK OF Ulysses : this cinema which built us and which continues, even today, to educate us, to guide us in the course of the world. THE LOOK OF Ulysses is a rare film, precious even, to be cherished like a last lost reel, deep in a cellar, deep in the Balkans. Myself, when I unearthed the film, I felt like I was this Harvey Keitel in search of an object so rare, so unknown to the general public, that we would like to be able to share it on all the screens of the world.
Between reminiscences and reveries, Angelopoulos builds an elastic time, sculpts it – like Tarkovsky – and withdraws mental spaces where everything seems to want to blur: without a line of flight, lost in the fog, distances no longer exist, voices assail us, past and present merge. A loss of reference points – political obviously – which comes to blur the borders, to lose us in unknown spaces and a collective memory, in the middle of some ruins and a chaos on the point of becoming general: it is the Europe tearing itself apart here, and A. is this being in mourning for a past union, advancing in a desert of ruins and silences, processions and dissensions, damaged faces and suspended dead. Can we continue to watch at a time when everything is confused? How to see clearly through the fog? Can we just get out of it? There is something desperate about THE LOOK OF Ulysses, of desperate but never of despair as at Bela Tarr. Because if everything calls for an inevitable disappearance, Angelopoulos chooses to sink into poetry rather than pessimism.
And if Angelopoulos – like the character of A. – desperately seeks this first glance, it is also because the cinema invites to this perpetual experience of the first time, of this glance which would always keep within it the possibility of discovering. THE LOOK OF Ulysses This then emerges as an invitation to look around us, to seek beauty everywhere even when everything is falling apart, to open our eyes to what should not be forgotten. Open your eyes, really? It may already be too late. We must continue to look before the gaze has nothing more to contemplate. The bombs have been dropped, the land is still mined, the dead are no longer alive and what remains to be saved is still threatened by oblivion. But if the world crumbles around us, faith in cinema remains. Because cinema is also that: it is making films to soften the passage of time. And I know that I can count on Angelopoulos to take my hand and move my gaze from one place to another, from the child that I was to the adult that I am. Never forget this gaze, it is perhaps a first step towards strengthening our collective memory. And that ofOdysseus will haunt me, I hope, for a long time to come.
• Original title : Το βλέμμα του Οδυσσέα / Ulysse’s Gaze
• Production : Theo Angelopoulos
• Scenario: Theo Angelopoulos and Tonino Guerra, Pétros Márkaris, Giorgio Silvagni, Kain Tsitseli
• Main actors : Harvey Keitel, Erland Josephson, Maia Morgenstern, Thanassis Vengos
• Release date : September 13, 1995
• Duration: 2h56