December 11, 2005
Days of '36, 1972
"Going back to Metaxas, the two parties [right-wing and center] had enthroned him despite his being a real fascist, following in the tracks of earlier previous dictators. He did not make any effort to dissimulate his positions, and he had no scruples declaring that under his guidance, Greece would never face the risk of another autocracy. The King (joining forces with Metaxas and the British) wanted stability at any price, even if this meant opening the door to a dictator. ...What I was looking for was a certain climate. A reign of terror." -- Theo Angelopoulos (Unveiling the Patterns of Power: The Days of '36 interview with Ulrich Gregor)
Ostensibly centered on the real-life incident in 1936 of a parliamentary official held hostage at gunpoint by a prisoner in isolated confinement during a seemingly routine jailhouse visit, Days of '36 is a probing, incisive, and critical examination of the synchronicity of several events during the early days of the Metaxas rule that, when collectively examined, would provide an ominous foreshadowing of the atmosphere of injustice, secrecy, abuse, thuggery, and intimidation that would define the zeitgeist of prewar Greece and, inferentially, expose the underlying cultural infrastructure that enabled the country's tumultuous political evolution that would eventually lead to the then-ruling military junta of the colonels. Angelopoulos follows in a similar elliptical chronology and distanced observation infused with unobtrusive, cinema vérité-styled camerawork (most notably in the film’s recurring use of overhead cameras in interior spaces) introduced in his first feature Reconstruction to create a re-enacted, but atmospherically (and psychologically) faithful chronicle of the times: the assassination of a union leader during a public appearance, the nebulous relationship between the captive official and the prisoner (note a guard’s uncorroborated observation of the two laughing that suggests an arrangement between the two, perhaps in the prisoner's erstwhile capacity as party informant), the attempted escape by several convicts during a riot in the prison grounds, the government's deployment of trained assassins posing undercover as mob hitmen to end the standoff. Through the systematic silencing of the opposition and political agitators, the covert suppression of scandal, and heavy-handed government enforcement of social order, Angelopoulos exposes the underlying vulnerability and resulting paranoia endemic in the Metaxas government - a political ascension forged through the tenuous alliance of the right-wing, monarchists, and centrists as a means of neutralizing the influence of the left-wing and communist party - that would set an inevitable precedent for the entrenched factionalism and instability that would pave the way to civil war and the ensuing turbulent history of postwar autocratic governments.