Voyage to Cythera, 1984

A pensive, middle-aged filmmaker named Alexander (Giulio Brogi, but whose voice was dubbed in Greek by Theo Angelopoulos) on a shooting break from the filming of a semi-autobiographical feature that explores the plight of returning political refugees during the general amnesty of the 1970s, encounters a gaunt, yet ennobled old man selling lavender at a kafeneon (a village cafeteria and lounge). Captivated by the humble vendor who perhaps bears a resemblance to his own absent father, Alexander follows the old man into the mist. Does Alexander, the abandoned son, believe this man to be his father, or does he, the director, envision this frail elder to be the ideal embodiment of the aging partisan (a part that he has been unable to cast) for his film? Reality becomes obscured in the metaphor of the enveloping fog. Soon, the old man, Spyros (Manos Katrakis) emerges from the harbor carrying his meager possessions – a suitcase and a violin – having returned home on a temporary visa after a 32-year exile in Uzbekistan. Politely but disaffectedly acknowledged by his adult children Alexander and Voula (Mary Chronopoulou), he is accompanied to see their mother, Katerina (Dora Volanaki), a nurturing woman who greets him with the simple yet poignant words, “Have you eaten?”. Nevertheless, despite Katerina’s tempered welcome, Spyros’ homecoming invariably proves to be overwhelming as well-intentioned relatives, now virtual strangers, amass at the house for the eagerly awaited reunion. In an attempt to help him readjust to his ‘new’ life, the family decides to travel to their neglected, rural home in a near-deserted village in order to reconnect Spyros with familiar images from his past. Communicating through a series of coded, bird call-like whistles, Spyros reunites with an old family friend named Panayiotis (Giorgos Nezos) at a graveyard populated by fallen contemporaries. It is a bittersweet reconciliation between two aging neighbors – once divided by the devastating civil war – that momentarily brings a sense of closure to the melancholic and emotionally burdened Spyros. However, when Spyros discovers that the village is in the process of being acquired by commercial developers for a proposed resort, his refusal to participate in the sale of the land reopens the town’s unhealed wounds towards the defiant and unapologetic rebel.

The first film of Theo Angelopoulos’ self-described Trilogy of Silence (that also includes The Beekeeper and Landscape in the Mist), Voyage to Cythera is a sublimely poetic, elegiac, and profoundly moving portrait of disconnection, aging, and obsolescence. Using a film-within-a-film structure, Angelopoulos interweaves personal observation and historical account into a compelling testament on the tragic legacy of the Greek civil war. Through Angelopoulos’ alter-ego, Alexander’s dual role as film director and Spyros’ son (who, in an oblique sense, may not be ‘acting’ in a fictionalized film), Angelopoulos correlates the abandonment, decay, and ruin of the Greek village witnessed by Spyros and his family with the subsequent apathy, callousness, and moral erosion of contemporary society encountered by Alexander as he attempts to find humanity and compassion for the uncertain plight of his disenfranchised and literally adrift father. Angelopoulos further illustrates the underlying hypocrisy of Spyros’ persecution as a forcibly uprooted and marginalized national (who is essentially stripped of his citizenship and reduced to refugee status in his own country) struggling to retain the spirit of a dying culture, even as the community is eager to collective sell its ancestral homeland – its figurative national soul – and move away. Caught in an absurd, existential limbo of bureaucracy and emotional desolation, Spyros’ interminable journey home, like the mythical voyage to Cythera, becomes one of human faith, connection, perseverance, and dignity.

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