Greece’s most famous filmmaker, and a leading light in world cinema until his death in a traffic accident in 2012, Theo Angelopoulos is known for lengthy, aesthetically beautiful films, such as Ulysses’ Gaze (1995), that examine Greek history, culture and myth from a contemporary viewpoint. Reconstruction, his 1970 debut, is smaller in scale, but establishes many of the themes this “auteur’s auteur” would revisit throughout his career.
Reconstruction is unusual among Angelopoulos’ 13-film body of work – most of which is arranged in trilogies – as it does not directly reference earlier times. It’s set away from the cities and beaches that were drawing European tourists in the 1960s, in a small, stony village called Tymphea, in northern Greece. The script is based on a true story about a woman who killed her husband, buried him in her yard, and then planted onions over his body to hide it; a crime that took place near Tymphea.
Indeed, Reconstruction is often referred to as a crime film, although it’s atypical of the genre, as the guilt of the murderers is revealed almost immediately. The film follows two lines of inquiry that seek to determine which of the guilty parties committed the actual act of killing. This lays the foundation for Angelopoulos to explore the intersections of truth, myth and history in modern Greece.
There is a touch of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon , a film which sought to show the relativity of truth, to Reconstruction. A man returns to his village and is killed by his wife and her lover when he enters the house – the killing is never explicitly depicted on camera. A magistrate, with the help of the local police, mounts a reconstruction of the events, using the wife and her lover, to try to work out who did the strangling. Meanwhile, journalists launch their own investigation, bringing the archaic societal values of the small village to the fore.
The film was made two years after a coup put Greece under the control of a right-wing military dictatorship, “the Junta”. The magistrate, an unsympathetic character, is a symbol of the dictatorship. The country’s economic decline under the Junta is referenced in a voice-over at the start, which notes how the population has fallen in the village, and the film’s rainy bleakness sums up the gloomy zeitgeist of the country at the time.
Shot on a miniscule budget, Reconstruction opened the door for a new style of filmmaking in Greece, which had been co-producing commercial movies for international audiences. It also set Angelopoulos on the path to greatness.
Reconstruction will be screened on September 4 at the Hong Kong Film Archive, in Sai Wan Ho, and on September 24 at UA Cine Moko, in Mong Kok, as part of the Restored Treasures series.