Saturday, December 13, 2008

Light and dark

To the lasting horror of the critics, the wonderfully naff Mamma Mia, is now the biggest selling DVD of all time. I can understand the charms, especially given the backdrop of the warm, sunny Greek islands. However, I watched another DVD last night, also filmed in Greece. It wasn't the same.

The Weeping Meadow is the first in a planned trilogy of films by Theo Angelopoulos and is an unremitting tragedy, a howl of grief at the brutalities of the first half of the Twentieth Century. Its backdrop is the plains of Northern Greece, all scenes were filmed in winter, and deals with the fate of Greek exiles who fled from Odessa in 1919. It is visually stunning and atmospheric, and its themes are both epic and intimate. I was uncomfortable with its unremitting bleakness, a frame of mind reflected by the absence of spring or summer, though it is a fine piece of work with a memorable score by Eleni Karaindrou.

Angelopoulos was consciously exploring the experience of his mother's generation, one that spanned most of the Twentieth Century. Modern Greek history is a troubled one of exile, dispossession, civil war, invasion and dictatorship before the achievement of democracy. Sometimes when I walk through the village where my house is, I wonder at the lives of the old people sitting together and gossiping on their chairs dragged out of their houses on to the street. If there is a political message to The Weeping Meadow it is that the gains of post-war western democracy are not to be lightly dismissed but to be protected and built upon. And perhaps us western baby boomers should be a little more aware of our historical privilege and the good fortune of our birth.

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