The Travelling Players, 1975

A weary, expressionless acting troupe arrives at a near empty train station in a rural Greek village. The itinerant actors have arrived into town to perform a popular, idyllic, pastoral play entitled Golpho The Shepherdess. The actors seem indistinguishable from each other, and only their literary names, derived from the Aeschylus Oresteia trilogy (Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides), provide a glimpse into their true character: the father, Agamemnon (Stratos Pachis); the adulterous mother, Clytamnestra (Aliki Georgouli); the traitorous uncle, Aegisthus (Vangelis Kazan); the avenging daughter, Elektra (Eva Kotamanidou); the revolutionary son, Orestes (Petros Zarkadis); and the self-involved daughter, Chrisothemis (Maria Vasileiou). The Travelling Players chronicles the turbulent recent history of Greece, from the Nazi occupation of World War II to the devastating Civil War between the Royalists and the Communists. Throughout the film, the troupe inexhaustibly attempts to perform the same play from village to village, only to be invariably disrupted by air raids, arrests, gunfire, and murder. Even their attempts to reach the next town often prove to be daunting as they encounter the bodies of executed rebels, are detained by supercilious Allied soldiers seeking entertainment, or are terrorized by their own countrymen searching for partisan rebels hiding in the mountains. Figuratively, the travelling players are transient, anonymous supporting players in their nation’s own unresolved history – refugees within their own decimated country – eternally doomed to wander aimlessly through the austere and turbulent landscape, unable to go home again.

Theo Angelopoulos creates a harsh, bleak, and profoundly tragic portrait of the dissolution of the national soul in The Travelling Players. Angelopoulos frames the characters through medium and long shots in order to create a distant camera perspective, and reflects their own insignificance in their reluctant roles as peripheral witnesses to the country’s turmoil. The unemotive, Byzantine countenance of the actors, similar to the muted expressions of the characters in Robert Bresson’s films, further manifest, not only the ravaged, desolate villages of the Greek countryside, but also the emotional toll of the unending violence. The lyrics of a repeated ballad echoes the hopelessness and melancholy of the wandering players: “You will come back, no matter how many years go by, you will come back, full of remorse, to ask forgiveness, one night in shame you will come back”. It is an elegy that mourns the loss of a great love, and solemnly awaits the return of a broken soul despite the ravages of time – a haunting, passionate serenade for a wounded nation still attempting to reconcile with its devastating, self-destructive past.

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