14 January 2004 | dwingrove
A Soul in Suspended Animation
Having only ever seen one Angelopoulos film before - The Travelling Players, which thrilled me about as much as paint drying on a wall - I was unprepared for the revelation that is The Suspended Step of the Stork. Shot over a decade ago, this long metaphysical tale of desperate refugees and disenchanted politicians has become more contemporary with each intervening year. As if a lone Greek film-maker had somehow prophesied the horrors of Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq - and the creeping paralysis that has overtaken Western democracy.
It begins in a refugee camp on the Greek-Albanian border, where a TV journalist spots an elderly man (Marcello Mastroianni) and decides he is a leading politician who went missing years before. Tracing the man's 'widow' (Jeanne Moreau) the reporter gropes his way towards the film's central dilemma. What could make a progressive intellectual lose all faith in humanity, to the extent that he gives up not only his political career but also his very identity?
This sounds like dry stuff indeed, and so it might be without the alchemical power of Angelopoulous's camera. There are sequences here that beg for inclusion in an anthology of all-time cinema greats. The tracking-shot along a disused train, each carriage inhabited by a penniless refugee family. The wedding across the river, with bride and groom stranded on opposite sides by the arbitrary idiocy of national borders, which veers perilously close to kitsch but never succumbs.
Moreau is magnificent, Mastroianni his genial hangdog self, but neither actor could ever mistake this film for a star vehicle. If there is a star here, it's the soul of humanity itself. A soul neither living nor dead, but held in suspended animation.