9 February 2012 | runamokprods
A step towards Angelopoulos' greatness
An even more difficult and abstract film than Angelopoulos' debut "Reconstruction", his 2nd feature deals with a man arrested after a political leader is assassinated. The man seems to have been part of the assassination plot, but it is left somewhat ambiguous what his role was, if any. In jail he takes prisoner of an official who may or may not also be his cohort. While the hostage situation is at the very center of the plot, we are never in the room with the two men, and never know quite what is or isn't going on between them.
Tied directly to specific events in Greek history of 1936, when Greece fell into dictatorship (I suspect only a deeper knowledge of that history would have let me experience all the film's many levels),and made during the second period of dictatorship 30+ years later (and so had to be ginger in how blatant it's anti-government stance was) on the broader scope the film is about the desperate stupidity of power, seen here via the various odd ways in which those in power try to deal with the hostage crises; rendering them at first impotent, and then violent.
The pace is very slow. This is a comparatively short film by the director's standards, but actually felt longer than some of his epics. Without an emotional center or any character(s) we can identify with, using all non-actors, many of whom give fairly stiff performances, the film teeters on the edge between fascinatingly enigmatic and simply frustrating and confusing. It's all a metaphor for a society going wrong, for the rise of fascism, but it's convolutions, distant performances, and (for Angelopoulos) naturalistic visual style never really allows us inside as his later, greater, more poetic, theatrical and emotional works do.
But it is beautifully made, shot from always interesting angles. Angelopoulos had yet to fully embrace his trademark super-long, flowing elaborate takes, (often multi-minute mini-films within a film) but there is a step in that direction from "Reconstruction".
"Days of 36" is a transitional film, as Angelopoloulos starts to find the voice that would lead to his masterpieces, starting with his next film, "The Travelling Players", where his intellectual rigor would be balanced by an incredibly cinematic vision, and a sense of loss and pain, so one is drawn deeply in, even as you occasionally get lost on a literal level.
Not a great film, but an intellectually interesting one, and required viewing for anyone interested in the arc of the work of this great master of images. And I suspect, as with all this film-makers' dense films, I will only get more from it on repeated viewings.