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Eternity And A Day

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No other director working today polarizes continental opinion like Greek auteur Theo Angelopoulos, an acknowledged master in Europe whose work is somehow diminished in its trip across the Atlantic, where critics tend to bristle at its languorous pacing and arty portent. His latest, the frequently astonishing Eternity And A Day, won the 1998 Palme D'Or by unanimous consent, but its tepid reception here—where many have glibly used the title for an inane bon mot—does a disservice to the affecting late-period reverie on history and mortality. In a role originally intended for the late Marcello Mastroianni, Bruno Ganz plays the director's surrogate, a revered author who discovers he's terminally ill and spends his last days wandering the Greek countryside, observing the world with a poetic detachment that recalls Ganz's angel in Wings Of Desire. Longing to resolve his feelings on personal and national history, he revisits a bittersweet seaside afternoon with his long-dead wife (Isabelle Renauld) and encounters an 18th-century poet whose unfinished work he intends to complete. His metaphysical journey, which is unmistakably similar to Victor Sjöström's in Wild Strawberries, is interrupted by a young Albanian refugee (Achileas Skevis) he rescues from a black-market adoption ring. Eternity And A Day occasionally lapses into navel-gazing ennui, and Ganz's reluctant kinship with the adorable moppet courts cliché, but Angelopoulos strings together so many haunting, exquisitely choreographed sequences that even his worst ideas are emotionally resonant. His painterly eye and long, creeping camera movements produce some unforgettable moments, including a stunning tableau of darkened figures hanging like moths on the Albanian border and a joyous courtyard wedding processional captured in one shot. Angelopoulos' deep austerity seems out of step with the times, a fact that may account for his characters' exiled state, but his artistry still has the power to overwhelm.