"The Weeping Meadow" is the first film of "The Trilogy," Angelopoulos' newest and most ambitious project, and clearly his valedictory project. The story proceeds in a straight-forward, linear fashion, unusual for Angelopoulos' treatment of time, which is often somewhat convoluted. The historical period covered by the present film, beginning twenty years earlier than in his 1975 historical epic, "The Travelling Players," overlapping only with the latter from 1939 until the end of the Greek Civil War, in 1949. This is the first time, since "Reconstruction" (1970), that Angelopoulos casts a woman as the central character of a film. This leading role is interpreted by Alexandra Aidini, a first-year student at the National Theater's drama academy, in her debut appearance on the screen. Her acting shows unusual maturity for an unseasoned actress, as she transforms herself convincingly, physically and mentally, from a young woman in her late teens to a woman in her thirties. Alexis' role is entrusted also to a first-year student at the same academy, Nikos Poursanidis, whose performance is convincing. Giorgos Armenis, as Nikos, is most touching in his portraying of a stoic character, full of humanity and compassion. Milhalis Giannatos' part, as the clarinetist of the group, is small but effective. Rather atypical for Angelopoulos, there are some expository dialogues in the earliest scenes, but they appear a little gauche. However, in keeping with his unique style, dialogues are sparse, without any monologues or exchanges during which his characters exteriorize their inner conflicts, doubts, or feelings. The filmmaker prefers to keep his viewers away from their emotional responses, and instead forces them to explore and study the identities of his characters. The action, as in the classic Greek theater, takes place offstage and is described not by the chorus, but by some of the different characters functioning, in turn, as the chorus.
The cinematography is by Andreas Sinanos who had been Giorgos Arvanitis' assistant, from 1975 until1983. The whole film is shot under covered skies, threatening or rainy weather, and misty Greek landscapes in dark colors of grays, blues, and greens. Red appears briefly on three occasions: on the ground under the tree, as the blood of the sheep hanging from the branches above; in the women's dresses at the Popular Front dance; and in Elini's unfinished sweater, as Alexis is departing for America. The colors, the characters, and their costumes, the usual decors of the familial tales are all represented in a style all in tableaux and plan-sequences of an Angelopoulos who has totally reverted to the aesthetics of his first films. The only compromise made has been in the black flags of death instead of the red ones of the revolution. Angelopoulos' films contain many image references and lines of dialogues from his previous films, and this film is no exception, which makes it a delight for Angelopoulos' aficionados.
Angelopoulos' productions are always filmed on location in remote areas, using the available decor, with minimal construction. But this film is rather unusual insofar as it required the massive constructions of a whole city neighborhood of some two hundred 1920-style, stone houses in the Thessaloniki's harbor section, which will eventually be burnt down, and of a whole village at the edge of Lake Kerkini, some distance north of the city. The choice of the village's location was dictated by the fact that by March, the lake would be rising by about two meters, and the structures would then be submerged for the purpose of the plot. Yorgos Patsas and Kostas Dimitriadism, set designers, built the city neighborhood to be burnt and the village to be submerged, and Andreas Sinanos, the cinematographer, filmed the disasters.
The story is based on a short story by Italian screenwriter, old friend and close collaborator, Tonino Guerra (whose filmography extends to 99 films, including films with Antonioni, Fellini, and Tarkovsky), with the additional participation of Petros Markaris, and Giorgio Silvagni.
The music is by Angelopoulos' long time collaborator, Eleni Karaindrou. Her music is not a background accompaniment, but a dramatic element, a living component of the story, an actor adding some words that had not been spoken.
In "The Trilogy," of which "The Weeping Meadow" is the first part, Angelopoulos plans to recall his country's history, from the early years of the last century to the present, as seen through the eyes of a woman, Eleni, as she lives her life. As a child, she knows death and exile, as an adolescent she lives a passionate love, she then becomes a mother, is persecuted for her ideas, and finally faces death again and ends up alone in the world. Her story has, as principal theme, the exile of the Greek people, and the displacement of the people in general, at the whim of History. The time during the two World Wars saw huge numbers of Greek refugees move throughout the Balkans, and to the "promised land," America. After WWII, more than one million refugees, both political and economical, left for Germany which had become the new "promised land." Angelopoulos tackles his themes as he would in a Greek tragedy, and as in all Greek tragedies, a single primordial mistake leads to an unstoppable chain of events, one that crushes inexorably the main character.
Whereas in "The Travelling Players" History was the principal character, and the itinerant group of players, rather than any particular individual character, was another "star" of the film, in the present film, History is now relegated to the background over which Eleni's story is told. Eleni, whose very name evokes Greece, becomes a metaphor for the Greek nation and its people. She is the Greek mythological mother who laments the sacrifices of her fathers, brothers, and sons. But she is also the modern heroine, as women everywhere throughout the ages, who bend and stagger under the weight of adversity. Furthermore, Angelopoulos' treatment of History in "The Weeping Meadow" is certainly different from that in "The Travelling Players." In the latter film, Angelopoulos' views contradict the "official" Greek history and constitute a fundamental revision of history in which the Left, in general, and the Communist Party of Greece in particular, are given their proper places, and are not depicted as the moral threat to Greek democracy. In "The Weeping Meadow," History is simply there, absolute, and not open to interpretations.
Since we became familiar with the cinema of Angelopoulos, we know his fascination with the Greek myths, that they are eternal, and that History repeats itself. In this particular film there are references to the Theban cycle of the Lavdakides family - "Oedipus, The Seven against Thebes", and "Antigone." There are only traces of these myths, as Alexis, although feeling responsible for his father's death, is surely not Oedipus, and Eleni is not Iocasta, as she is not Alexis' biological mother. In "The Seven against Thebes," the brothers are implacable enemies, but here the twins only happen to find themselves in opposing camps. And Eleni does not bury her brother against the will of the King: she his actually allowed to bury her twin sons. There is also a reference to Homer's Penelope in the departure scene to America, where Alexis unwinds Eleni's unfinished knitted sweater. Or is it Ariadne's thread, which allowed Theseus's exit from the labyrinth? But in the present film, the thread broke and Alexis-Theseus never came back. All these allusions to Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Homer are only here because they make the poet Angelopoulos dream.
Of course, there are always many symbols in Angelopoulos' film, some whose interpretations are not always clear, even to the author himself. In "The Weeping Meadow," water is associated with pain and death, and pain is the prevalent emotion in the film. The trains, which keep crisscrossing the screen, are carriers of bad omens.
Angelopoulos' work is an uncompromising devotion to cinema as poetry. His films are elegant, powerful, and eloquent. They are also long and demanding on the part of the spectator, but always well worth the effort. Angelopoulos' films have something of melancholic, but they are not pessimistic. The melancholy that one feels is the dignity of the heart confronted with the defeat of a vision.
"The Weeping Meadow" won the European Film Academy Critics Award --Prix FIPRESCI, in 2004.