Jonathan White’s review published on Letterboxd:
What is it like to pass from this life into the next? Amongst the dense forest of allusion that Greek director Theodoros Angelopoulos presents, this is the one that stands out for me as the over arching theme. I mentioned this to my wife after our watch and she told me that this film was the third of Angelopoulos’ ‘Trilogy of Borders’. This made perfect sense. While played as a preparation for a journey, it is in fact the journey itself. There are those who help guide us; show us the sign posts that the grownups have left. There are our loved ones who have gone before. There are our reflections on our life; our joys and our regrets.
The young Albanian boy that our protagonist rescues, in fact, rescues him. He brings out our Protagonist’s good from under the hood of a life filled with selfish acts to show him his own humanity. He acts as a mirror reflecting Alexandre’s life back at him. Though his grief for his fallen brother, he shows the grief that others will feel at Alexandre’s passing. It’s like our innocent nameless child is the hand of God gently guiding Alexandre across the border to the other side. There’s an actual, rather frightening, border crossing scene where Alexandra and the boy turn away from that I’ll have to ruminate on during a future viewing.
Eternity and a Day is so rich that I find it impossible to unravel much more than these simplest of observations on a first watch. I could spend weeks just thinking about the concept of a poet not understanding their own language, and buying words from others. There are so many wonderful little breadcrumbs, like getting off a bus at the same place you got on, or an unseen neighbour who always answers with the same music you just played, that you could go mad trying to unravel them all. I know that re-watches are going to be both challenging and rewarding.
This was my first exposure to Theodoros Angelopoulos. I had zero foreknowledge of him or his work other than he was Greek and well respected. Well respected. That’s an understatement. His wonderful long shots are reminiscent of Tarr. There is a special quality about them, though. Angelopoulos and long time cinematographers Giorgos Arvanitis and Andreas Sinanon give you the illusion that a shot is static, when in fact it belies the fact that the camera is always subtly craning, tracking, or dollying; often so slowly as to be virtually imperceptible. My only regret is the 4x3 letterboxed, stuttery, under saturated transfer full of distracting audio dropouts that Netflix has marred this wonderful visual experience.
I think it says something about a film when you can say that you don’t notice the actors. Bruno Ganz effortlessly evoked Alexandre’s joy, regrets, and fears. First time child actor Achileas Skevis does an admirable job in the critical role as Alexandre’s nameless guide. Isabelle Renauld, as Alexandre’s departed wife Anna, conveys longing, love, and grace in just the right measure.
While I was thinking about the theme of crossing from one plane to the next, and pondering other films that covered this ground, suddenly I was struck by a similarity with Hirokaza Kore-eda’s wonderful After Life from the same year. The central conceit of After Life is that you can only bring one memory with you. Here in Eternity and a Day, it’s not a single memory, but rather a single day. A single day for eternity.