Taking the long view

The Weeping Meadow

They’re calling this one an unqualified masterpiece. Actually, it’s plenty qualified: The filmmaker, Theo Angelopoulos, has a distinguished history of making distinguished histories. The Weeping Meadow, part one of his proposed trilogy, has a novel’s breadth and sweep, a folk tale’s immediacy, the formal manner of an epic poem and the constitution of a Sophoclean tragedy. (Thoroughly Greek, you might say.) But don’t get the wrong idea: Such an accomplishment could only occur in cinema, and maybe only by Angelopoulos’ hand.

All of which may not matter to anyone not in the mood for 170 funereal minutes of winter-hued unease (admittedly a trickier prospect on DVD than in an amply screened theater), but such hurried skeptics should give this movie a break; it contains three difficult decades, after all.

The story begins in 1919, with a family of Greek refugees from Odessa and the war orphan they’ve adopted. Eventually the girl becomes pregnant by her adoptive brother and later elopes with him, embarking on a quest to reclaim the twin sons they were forced to give away at birth. History, of course, intervenes.

The movie’s real meaning is in how Angelopoulos fills his arrestingly beautiful frames—gliding languidly across the landscapes, receding to deliberate; or facing them head-on, waiting for people to pour in from every corner and complete the living tableaux. It’s almost funny how he takes his time with these slow-moving shots, then nonchalantly cuts the action to several years later, unsettling our grasp of what constitutes main events and what are mere interludes.

Evidently, this is less a history lesson (good luck getting actual facts out of it) than an assertion of history as common human experience. In this case, it’s the experience of beleaguered transience—or, as the tragic heroine puts it, the bereavement of being “exiled from everywhere.”