Alexandre (Bruno Ganz) has reluctantly dismissed his devoted housekeeper, Urania (Helene Gerasimidou), explaining that he is about to embark on a “long journey” from which he does not intend to return. It is a vague euphemism that allows him to say good-bye to his loved ones without the sentimentality of revelation. The reality is that he is terminally ill, and the doctor has advised him to go to the hospital when the pain becomes unbearable. Tomorrow is the fateful day – the beginning of the end – and all that is left for Alexandre is to get through this final day. He pays an unexpected visit to his daughter, Katerina (Iris Chatziantoniou), who asks about his one literary obsession. He has lived a long and prosperous life of a renowned poet and writer, but has been consumed by one project since his wife, Anna’s (Isabelle Renauld), death: to complete an unfinished poem entitled The Besieged Free by a nineteenth century immigrant poet named Solomos. Alexandre hands Katerina a collection of unopened letters belonging to his late wife. Among them is a letter without an envelope – a poignant, affectionate disclosure of love and longing written by a young wife to her distracted, work-obsessed husband. Alexandre momentarily finds himself returning to the memories of his past – to an idyllic summer day that never was – to a perfect day with his beloved Anna and their new daughter. But the images are fleeting, and Alexandre is left with a more pressing matter at hand: to find a new home for his dog. He unwittingly interrupts a wedding ceremony in order to ask Urania to care for the dog. Urania urges him to take her with him on his “trip”, but he declines. Death is, after all, a solitary journey. While waiting for his prescription to be filled at a local pharmacy, he sees a young Albanian window washer (Achileas Skevis) abducted into a van. Alexandre rescues the boy, and resolves to take him back to his war-torn homeland. In the process of attending to the welfare of the young refugee, he reconciles with the guilt and regret of his selfish past and learns to accept his fate.
Theo Angelopoulos creates a stunningly haunting, seamless fusion of reality, nostalgia, and dreams in Eternity and a Day. Using long takes and reverse tracking, Angelopoulos creates a visual metaphor for the isolation of the soul: the hallway shot of Alexandre after Urania’s departure; a team of window washers descending on cars at a stop light; the framed shot of Anna by the gate of the summer house. Moreover, recurrent images of abandoned buildings, repeated flights of Albanian refugees across the border, and the unfinished poem, reflect Alexandre’s regret over his own unresolved actions. Figuratively, Alexandre, too, is an exile – longing to recapture an irretrievable past – unable to return home.
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