Film Review: The Dust of Time

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Berlin International Film Festival -- Official Selection, Out of Competition

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BERLIN -- Like several of Theo Angelopoulos' more recent films, "The Dust of Time" is a curious mixture of the brilliant and the absurd. The story weaves many different places and time periods together in an often stylized fashion, a signature technique of the director's at least since what many consider his masterpiece, "The Travelling Players" (1975). It goes without saying that the presentation of these different moments in time is highly random. Interestingly, his trademark long takes are nowhere to be seen.

The time span of "The Dust of Time" is around fifty years while the geographical span covers an area from Siberia to New York, and most of the places in between. To put it mildly, this makes it difficult to follow the narrative and many viewers will not be pleased. Things are not helped by the inconsistent acting and improbable situations that abound.

Given these handicaps, one is hard pressed to imagine large-figure sales in any territory or format, but the magic name of the celebrated Greek auteur should provoke at least some interest in the major cinephile capitals of the world.

"A" (Willem Dafoe) is an American director of Greek descent who has come to Rome's Cinecitta to make a film based on his own life and the lives of his parents, Eleni (an almost unrecognizable Irene Jacob) and Spyros (Michel Piccoli), who have been cruelly separated by the vagaries of twentieth century history innumerable times during the fifty year span of their relationship. Also figuring in the film is A's daughter Eleni, who disappears early on, causing him no end of anguish, and Jacob (Bruno Ganz) a German Jew who has been fruitlessly in love with the elder Eleni for decades.

As always in an Angelopoulos film, history, love, time, and various other themes like the artificiality of national borders are all interwoven. Here the panorama includes the gulags of Siberia, the Nazi concentration camps, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the coming of new millennium. Though the texture of the film is generally realistic, Angelopoulos never shies away from stylization to make a symbolic point.

The problem here is that many of the scenes that seem intended to be the most affecting are given so much symbolic weight to carry that they don't work. Even worse, characters often act inconsistently -- say, by suddenly shouting -- which completely destroys the story's believability. Worst of all, sometimes extremely unconvincing acting (Willem Dafoe is by far the greatest offender), or simply ridiculous improbabilities (for example, when one character continues to nap while two others have a loud conversation seated next to him), make other scenes feel completely fake.

Yet Angelopoulous has not lost his touch for the perfect, if occasionally over-the-top visual gesture that often makes the film soar. One can only wish that there were more of these transcendent moments, and fewer that fall flat and become laughable.
Production companies: Theo Angelopoulos Film Productions
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Bruno Ganz, Michel Piccoli, Irene Jacob
Director: Theo Angelopoulos
Screenwriter: Theo Angelopoulos
Producer: Phoebe Economopoulou
Director of photography: Andreas Sinanos
Production designer: Andrea Crisanti, Dionisis Fotopoulos
Music: Eleni Karaindrou
Costume designers: Regina Homckaya, Francesca Sartori, Martina Schall
Editors: Yannis Tistsopoulos, Giorgos Chelidonides
Sales: The Match Factory
No rating, 125 minutes