orfeas’s review published on Letterboxd:
“They were still here yesterday”
I have just finished watching for the first time and I have not read anything on it, but I don't care, this is one of my favorite films of all time. It is still hard for me to believe that a film this good exists. If you are reading this and have not seen it, I implore you to do so. I am sooo fucking glad I saw it. This was my first Angelopoulos and I already love him.
”It means, “Too late””
The image of people climbed up on fences, staring at the other side, is one we see more than once in Theo Angelopoulos' 1998 masterpiece, Eternity and a Day. People looking through fences, to see happiness or the place they want to be, but knowing that they can not be there due to the fence separating them and their desires. Such is the state of the film's protagonist, Alexander. Alexander is terminally ill, and in the film we see his last journey, that towards greeting Death. He chooses to spend the little time he has left on this world reveling in his past, drowning in an endless sea of memories, nostalgia, regret, grief, remorse, things left unfinished and missed opportunities. He comes to the harsh realization that the life he lived was a deficient one, filled with mistakes, and that he has not left behind anything valuable for the world. He is now simply an old man wandering in the mist, looking through the fence of time at his past life, wishing he could go back to it, change it, but knowing that it is impossible, because of the fence that separates them. All remnants of Alexander's past are slowly fading away; his old house has been sold, his daughter seems estranged from him. Much like the poet whose work he dedicated himself to for the last few years of his life, Alexander is going to die and leave behind nothing but drafts (for the last 30 years of his life, Solomos never completed a single poem despite constantly writing). The life he once had in front of him has now become but a series of memories soaked in remorse.
”Why did I live my life in exile? Tell me mother, why can't we learn to love?”
And yet, Alexander has something left: one last day on this world, and a day can last for an eternity. Alexander meets a young homeless kid from Albania and decides to help him. At first, this is a decision driven by an urge to feel like he has managed to do something good for the world in his life, to escape his sorrow. But by the end, what Alexander sees in the kid is not just a way to make himself feel like he has accomplished something; he sees a companion in his last journey, when all other companions have long abandoned him. He sees a mirror; in many ways, Alexander and the kid are not so different. Both are fuelled by fear; Alexander fears what's in front of him, the kid fears what's behind him. Alexander fears the looming shadow of Death, whereas the kid is traumatized by his past experiences and lives in an environment where he is surrounded by threats, such as prejudiced cops or human traffickers (who are both presented as 2 sides of the same coin). Alexander and the kid are both alone in this world; every person they seem to have cared about or who once cared about them is either dead or has left them. Although Alexander and the kid are divided by class (whereas Alexander is a famous writer who is a native and doesn't seem to be facing any financial problems, the kid is homeless and an illegal immigrant from a country which, at the time, was war-torn), they are brought together because they both are going to leave. Alexander has to leave this life, and the kid has to leave Greece. So they decide to spend their last day here simply as friends, before they sail away into the sea. In this final journey, Alexandros sees and subsequently reminisces the various different stages of life; from childhood, in the form of the kid, to a couple getting married, to a couple breaking up, to an old woman on her deathbed, to death, in the form of another child getting drowned. Together, Alexandros and the kid see the real truth: “Life is sweet”. At first, Alexander thought the kid needed him. Little did he know it was he who needed the kid.
This supposedly wise old man needed the wisdom a homeless child offered him. Despite how sad Alexander may think his life was, we see that it is incomparable to the lives of these kinds of people, people who are ripped away from their homeland at a young age due to war, people who have to see their best friends die, people who have to move into a different country where they live in poverty and are treated as if they were not people (the film's sociopolitical side starts to present itself here). Alexander's supposed wisdom could never counter the things this kid has experienced, so he needs the kid's wisdom (literally paying the kid money to tell him words to put in his poem). And in the end, the most valuable lesson the kid teaches Alexander is also the most painful one: that what makes life worth it is connection with other human beings. The thing Alexander regrets the most is that while his wife was shouting his name, he did not turn his head and simply continued to stare off into the sea. When she longed for him to interact with her, live with her, he ignored her and simply delved deeper into his philosophical musings. He cared more about a dead 18th-century poet than he did his own wife and family (at some point in the film, Alexandros asks Solomos a question which he does not answer; later on, he asks his wife the same question, and she answers). And when he did turn his head, it was too late. He never paid enough attention to the people in his life, until they left him.
“You live your life near us, but not with us.”
Alexander cannot fix the mistakes of his past. The film makes sure to remind us of that; what has been done has been done. Time in this film may be presented as something as fluid as the sea, but in Alexander's world, it is the fence that will forever keep him from fixing his past mistakes. The life he lived was a lacking one because he ignored the most important things, and that is something he can never change. The only thing he can do now, is to stop looking back, and make good of the little time he has left. Eternity can wait.
“I know that some day you will leave. The wind pushes your eyes away. But give me this day. As if it were our last. Give me this day.”
This is top 25 material.