The Travelling Players is a very special film, it’s made in Greece, directed by Theo Angelopoulos and released in 1975. This story sets the tone of life and times of Greeks and their struggle tracing the history between 1939 to 1952. It’s a fine narration by a group of travelling players who traverse Greek history and the Greek landscape. The history here is depicted by this group of players describing those contexts of situations in folklore.
The Travelling players witness the German occupation during WWII, and the liberation struggle, the rise of the KKE Communist party and the betrayal of the communist partisans by the British. The struggles of workers against austerity in Greece make this a perfect time to revisit this classic piece of cinema.
This classic reminisces the group of travelling players attempting to perform the popular erotic drama Golfo’ The Shepherdess. In a first level the film focuses on the historical events between 1939 and 1952, vividly cover the piece of history (familiar to Greece), viz. The last year of Metaxas’ fascist dictatorship, followed by the war against the Italians, then the Nazi occupation, the liberation, the civil war between left and right wingers, the British and American interventionism in the Greek politics and so forth.
In a second level the characters live in their own drama of jealousy and betrayal, with its roots in the ancient myth of the House of Atreus. Agamemnon, a Greek refugee from Asia Minor, goes to war against the Italians in 1940, joins the resistance against the Germans, and is executed by them after being betrayed by Clytemnestra and Aegisthos. Aegisthos, who is a Clytemnestra’s lover, is also an informer and collaborator working with the German occupiers. Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, fights on the side of the leftists, avenges his father’s death by killing his mother and Aegisthos. He is arrested in 1949 for his guerrilla activities and is executed in prison in 1951.
Electra, his sister, helps the leftists and aids her brother in avenging the treachery of their mother and Aegisthos. After the death of Orestes she continues the work of the troupe and her relationship with Pylades. Chrysotheme, Electra’s younger sister, collaborates with the Germans, prostitutes herself during the occupation, sides with the British during liberation, and later marries an American. Pylades, close friend of Orestes, is a Communist who is exiled by the Metaxas regime, joins the guerrillas and is arrested and exiled again. Finally he is forced to sign a written denunciation of the left after torture by the right wing and he is released from prison in 1950. (Quite a complex nature of the past history unknown to many and complex to follow at times watching the movie)
Like many of Theo Angelopoulos’ films, his cinematic style marks the use of long, static takes combined with complex tracking shots, and beautiful landscape photography to create a surrealistic atmosphere. Only eighty shots are used throughout the entire film. Shots in this film often drift back and forth in time without warning and after a major scene it shows some down time for the viewer to contemplate what has just transpired. The devices used in monologues spoken to the camera are by the players, which gives the impression that the actors are addressing the viewer directly. Looking at the crafty camera work which follows as they walk along the street, but gradually the street will shift in time until we find that the players have, in one take, walked backwards in history. The historical change is registered through the changing slogans used during different elections. Politics is the central focus of this film. Remarkable and a memorable visual depiction indeed.
The Travelling Players is a brilliant film on many levels, artistically, structurally, and in its content. While many audiences may miss some of the finer points due to their lack of familiarity with Greek history and mythology, the film constitutes a recognizable breakthrough in political filmmaking. Surely the theme is very universal, it’s a story (or more like five or six stories) we’ve heard a thousand times before. This is history; history may be written by the elite or an intellectual in their own thoughts, but it’s experienced by the common people, may be the losers, or more often than not, nameless, faceless individuals…… and that’s the perception that Angelopoulos bring it to the audience.
The Travelling Players was shot during the twilight of the Greek dictatorship of the “colonels” between 1967 and 1974. It documents the suffering of a nation and is a plea for democracy made at a dark time for most Greeks. However the movie was released during the democratic regime in Greece. The reaction of this film after the release has been overwhelmingly positive. Upon release it was instantly proclaimed one of the greatest films of all time and has won numerous awards. The director intended to participate officially with this film in the Cannes’s festival at 1975, but the conservative Greek government prevented him to take part.
It is sad to note that Theo Angelopoulos died two years ago at the age of 76 while shooting a film in Greece. A gentle tribute to the Theo Angelopoulos’ epic and his work will remain an absolute inspiration for the modern film makers……
The Greek people have grown up caressing dead stones. I’ve tried to bring mythology down from the heights and directly to the people. – Theo Angelopoulos
- Directed by Theodoros Angelopoulos
- Produced by Giorgis Samiotis
- Written by Theo Angelopoulos
- Music by Loukianos Kilaidonis
- Editing by Takis Davlopoulos & Giorgos Triandafyllou
- Distributed by Papalios Productions
- Release dates: July 1975
- Running time:230 minutes
- Country: Greece
- Language: Greek; German & English