Directed by Greek director Theo Angelopoulos in 1988 it is a road movie of sorts about two children who go in search of their father. They are in Greece and they have been told by their mother that he is in Germany. No specific reason is given why the two run away from home but in the first scene they are at a train station watching the train depart. They come back the next day and hop on without a ticket. From this point their tough journey begins.
The girl; Voula (Tania Palaiologou) is around twelve years of age and her brother Alexander (Michalis Zeke) is around six. They are much too young to be out alone and the world around them is uninviting, cold and gray. Along the way they meet various strangers. One in particular is malevolent but others are decent and helpful. One good one is a young thespian named Orestes (Stratos Tzortzoglou) who becomes a sort of spiritual guardian to them; In some ways too he is a father figure to the boy and a boyfriend figure to the girl.
The story within the film is rather simple. But with Angelopoulos he merely uses a simple plot points to leap off into larger poetic and cinematic flourishes. Sometimes he makes mythical gestures – such as one scene in which a fifteen foot long cement sculpted hand emerges from the sea and is flown away by a helicopter. Other times he puts in scenes that aren't necessarily realistic but which carry the story forward and are rather mesmerizing; for instance there is one scene in which the children have been hauled off to a police station. While there it begins to snow outside and everybody just stops what they are doing, runs outside and looks up to see the white wonder floating down around them. The children see this as an opportunity and run away. The story continues.
Angelopoulos is also a cinematic stylist. One could say his cinema is rigorous because he often holds shots for a very long time and he has a dearth of editing. This particular film has less than 150 shots and they last an average of around 80 seconds per shot. Some don't like this style – calling it slow and boring. But to me this is closer to the rhythms of real life – not slow or boring but real. And too the single take technique is often more apropos to making compelling statements than are editing which are more manipulative.
One particular scene that does this is soon after the children have run from the police station. Suddenly they come upon a woman in a wedding gown crying and fleeing from a chateau. Then as the woman – now in the background – is carried back to her wedding a cart dragging a wounded and very agitated horse comes into the foreground. The camera tracks closer to the horse, which is situated in front of the children. The horse then dies. The shot continues as the camera tracks in toward the young boy who is now crying [for real it seems]. It is a very powerful scene that could not be improved with editing.
As the film carries on the children run into other situations. Some of which drag them closer to the German border and others that take them further away. After a while it seems they will not get there. Yet the trip itself – and what they learn along the way – is the true journey. It becomes a passage of sorts as they try to not only cross a real border but cross a border from youth to adulthood, or from dependence to independence, or even real life to dream life. By the end it no longer seems to matter whether they find their father or not. It only matters that they find themselves.
Like many European art films – of which this is one – there is a lot of ennui and character drifting much like that of an Antonioni movie, surreal flourishes like Fellini and a sense of dread like a Fassbinder movie. And too much like the French Nouveau Vague the film moves on toward a precarious oblivion. All of that - along with the poetic flourishes, the heartfelt story and the cinematic mastery - makes this a great film.