Adapted from their viral short film of the same name, Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling’s Cago opens on a wide shot of the Australian Outback. The burnt-red vista looks Martian. Winding through it is an olive-drab river, as still as paint, its green banks stippled with tufts of yellowing grass. There are palls of black smoke and bare ashen trees. It’s a beautiful place shot through with rot, shown in whirling bird’s-eye view.
Along that river, Andy (Martin Freeman) and his wife, Kay (Susie Porter), along with their infant daughter, Rosie (Lily-Anne and Marlee Jane Mchperson-Dobbins), travel by boat. Their vessel looks like a hulking foursquare funicular: on its bottom deck, laundry flaps on the line; and up top, a set of plastic patio chairs are set out. The plan is to head for a military base, but an excursion to purloin cargo from a wrecked yacht brings their boating trip to an abrupt halt.
Anyone unfamiliar to Theo Angelopoulos’s work could start chronologically, or they can simply skip to his Landscape in the Mist and leave it at that. 1995’s Ulysses’ Gaze is considerably more evocative than the Greek director’s fatuous Eternity and the Day though it’s nonetheless laughably pretentious. This tediously paced epic traces a country’s political upheavals and one man’s misplaced nationalism. “A” (a clueless Harvey Keitel) must find three lost reels of films produced by two brother-filmmakers in 1905 and located somewhere in the Balkans. Ulysses’ Gaze is mindful of the protagonist’s staunch need to capture and liberate a myth. Angelopoulos’s signature elliptical flourishes are on full display here. During the film’s opening scene, “A” discusses the Manakis brothers’ works with a former assistant of the two men. Are they occupying the same space or have “A” and the old man met at a bridge that spans the space and time continuum, Angelopoulos seems to ask. There are many such elegiac moments in Ulysses’ Gaze but all feel calculated and beleaguered by their own weight. In one of the film’s most haunting sequences, an army of soldiers butts heads with a pack of townsfolk carrying umbrella. Their confrontation creates a wall between “A” and a lone female wanderer. There is no doubt that we are in the presence of greatness, but Angelopoulos’s compositions are so calculated they leave no room for spontaneity. (Curiously, Angelopoulos made a stink at Cannes when his film lost to Kusturica’s far superior Underground.) A statue of Lenin is taken apart and transported down a river. Though the sequence serves to shed light on the looming presence of communism, the scene goes on for what seems like the duration of the October Revolution. Not surprisingly, the film’s most effective scene is also its least pretentious. Angelopoulos stunningly recounts the protagonist’s entire family history via one long shot composed of moving snapshots from his many New Years festivities. The entire film reeks of Angelopoulos’s delusion of grandeur: he fancies himself a poet first and a filmmaker second. Regardless, he’s been making the same like since 1991’s The Suspended Step of the Stork. Don’t be surprised if Angelopoulos’s next picture finds Willem Dafoe playing some a cheese-maker travelling through Pompeii and contemplating the political and social importance of gouda.