The fourth and last disc from the second batch of films provided by Greek dstrib New Star presents Theo Angelopoulos' politically charged drama Μερες του '36 a.k.a Days of 36 (1972).
The story of the film evolves around the fate of an unjustly imprisoned man who manages to take hostage a high-ranking Greek official. As the news of the abduction spreads around the many branches of the Greek government and consequently the media the country finds itself in a state of paralysis.
The abduction also has a tremendous effect on the future political climate in Greece. It coincided with the rise of Ethniki Organosis Neolaeas (EON), the National Youth Organization championed by Greek General Ioannis Metaxas (1871-1941) who was elected premier and shortly after dismissed by King George who favored a much-publicized pro-British foreign policy. Many who witnessed the event concluded that Greece had evaded an outright fascist regime.
Days of 36 is most certainly a film that will surprise those of you accustomed to the Greek director's evocative storytelling. The symbolism, the sense of longing, the almost mythical approach of recreating certain events witnessed in previous Angelopoulos films are replaced with cold documentary camerawork which practically negates what is seen as the director's forte. In the center of Days of 36 lies a desire to retell a piece of history without glorifying it.
To capture the true spirit of the events taking place on screen Theo Angelopoulos opted for a massive crew of non-professional actors whose performances are often rather static. From the apparatchiks juggling between the offices of the two main parties in Greece to the ordinary soldiers guarding the prison where the abduction takes place one can easily sense a bit of stiffness. Even the lines these "actors" utter often feel like reciting.
The atmosphere, however, which Days of 36 strives to accomplish, that of political uncertainty and a grandiose event in the making, is certainly here. I am unsure how well the chaos shown on screen would reverberate with audiences unfamiliar with Greek history but the Balkan mentality which follows the actions of the main protagonists is perfectly captured. From the hectic way of assessing the crisis to the twisted logic showcased by those in charge Days of 36 is a curious look at a country only a few steps away from being controlled by a military dictatorship.
How Does the DVD Look?
From all of the discs produced by Greek distrib New Star this one appears to be most questionable. Here's why:
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 the print for Days of 36 was personally supervised and approved by Theo Angelopoulos before it was transferred on DVD. Just as it was the case with the previous discs from New Star which we reviewed at DVDTALK contrast and detail are exceptional. So is the color-scheme which I believe is always of paramount importance when viewing an Angelopoulos film. What bothers me quite a bit with this release however is the large amount of scratches and specks that appear throughout the film. Immediately after I inserted the disc in my player it became obvious that either this print had suffered some substantial damage reminiscent to what I have come to expect from Soviet era poorly-preserved films. No matter what the history behind this print I must state my disappointment as obviously this is not what I expected to see.
This being said however Days of 36 remains perfectly watchable and if you avoid the fact that specs and dots would eventually pop up here and there the rest of the presentation is certainly on par with what we've seen from the remaining Angelopoulos' DVDs. As noted above the three main components: contrast, color, and detail are all treated with the proper degree of care. Finally, the progressive print isn't marred by any disturbing edge-enhancement and you will certainly have a great time "blowing" this print on a larger TV screen (projector owners will be happy to know that the print remains strong throughout).
PAL-encoded, Region 2.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with its original DD Greek track and a more advanced 5.1 mix the audio presentation is substantially better than the video treatment. With the exception of a few minor pop-ups the rest is quite enjoyable. The actors' speech is easy to follow and I did not detect anything that should disrupt your viewing experience. The DVD comes with optional Greek, French, and English subtitles, which are once again presented in white (decent mid-size font).
As it is the case with the rest of the Angelopoulos collection there are no extras to be found here.
An unusual but very thought-provoking film which I have not seen previously Days of 36 is a notch below the quality we have come to expect from New Star. I do not know how much of it is due to the fact that this release was partially delayed by the Greek company. Did they rush it? Or was the negative really in such poor condition that this is all that they could do? As I am unsure what the answer is I guess we will have to accept the fact that this is the best this film will ever look (bearing the Anegelopoulos' seal of approval).
This review was made possible with the kind assistance of Xploited Cinema.