It was just shy of midnight on Tuesday when Greece lost one of its finest artists.
Theo Angelopoulos, the filmmaker who earned his country so many international accolades, who left his indelible mark on world cinema, who was loved, admired and criticized in equal measure, and who put Greece on the international map of cinema, was fatally injured in a traffic accident during a shoot for his latest film, ?The Other Sea.?
The director died a few hours after being struck by a motorcycle while trying to cross a road in Drapetsona, on the outskirts of Piraeus, at a private hospital in the southern coastal of suburb of Neo Faliro, suffering heart failure as a result of multiple injuries. He was 76 years old.
In the foyer of the hospital, actors, directors, crew members, friends and family received the news of his death from the emergency medics who had tried for several hours to save him, with silent tears of shock and horror.
?He never took precautions on location. He was so dedicated to getting his shot, the scene, that he never took into account what difficulties or dangers may arise,? one of his acquaintances commented.
Angelopoulos was struck down by a motorcycle driven by an off-duty police officer, accompanied by his wife, while crossing the Drapetsona-Keratsini dual carriageway at 7 p.m., in the dark and without a phosphorescent vest, as were the rest of the crew had been wearing.
The motorcyclist told investigating officers on Thursday that he did not see the filmmaker crossing the road until it was too late.
Those who followed Angelopoulos?s career closely and who worked with him knew how strongly he was driven by his passion; they knew how obstinate he could be and the lengths he would go to to ensure perfection. His commitment to his work had taken a toll on his health as well, but the idea of embarking on another adventure, with another film — his most recent since ?The Dust of Time? in 2008 — gave him the boost that he needed.
Angelopoulos began filming ?The Other Sea? on a shoestring budget that did not, however, put off 30 actors of the Greek theater elite, as well as Italy?s Toni Servillo (?Il Divo?), from joining the director on his latest adventure. On the night of his death, he was in the third week of filming.
Angelopoulos was born in Athens on April 27, 1935, living through the Nazi occupation of Greece during World War II and the ensuing 1946-49 Greek Civil War recurring themes in his early films. He studied law at Athens University, but dropped out before finishing his degree.
In 1961, he moved to Paris, taking French literature, ethnology and film courses at the Sorbonne, before narrowing his interest to cinema and studying at the Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies and at the Musee de l?Homme in Paris.
Upon his return to Greece in 1964 and until 1967 he worked as a film critic at the Dimokratiki Allagi (Democratic Change) newspaper, along with his contemporaries Vassilis Rafailidis and Tonia Marketaki.
He began making films in 1965 and in 1968 presented his first short, ?Ekpombi? (Broadcast), at the Thessaloniki Film Festival.
In 1970, his first full-length feature, ?Reconstruction,? earned the top prize at Thessaloniki, as well as a critics prize at Berlin, and was considered as marking the beginning of new Greek cinema.
In 1972, his political thriller, filmed during the Greek junta, ?Days of 36,? began earning him more notice overseas, as well as another critics prize in Berlin, while ?The Traveling Players? of 1975 saw him triumph again in Berlin (Forum of New Cinema award), but also at Cannes (FIPRESCI prize), the British Film Institute Awards and at Tokyo?s Kinema Junpo Awards, where he received the best foreign language film director prize.
?The Hunters? in 1977 was his first film to be nominated for a Palme d?Or at Cannes and it was followed by ?Alexander the Great? in 1980, which earned him the Golden Lion at Venice. In 1984, ?Voyage to Kythera? became the first film he co-wrote with others (Pierre Baudry, Tonino Guerra and Thanassis Valtinos), winning him the best screenplay award at Cannes, as well as another FIPRESCI prize.
In ?The Beekeeper? (1986), Angelopoulos teamed up with Guerra again, as well as with Dimitris Nollas, for the script, and cast Marcello Mastroianni in the lead.
More awards came in 1988 with ?Landscape in the Mist,? among which was the Silver Lion at Venice, though his subsequent ?Suspended Step of the Stork,? starring Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau, failed to win the Golden Palm at Cannes in 1991, as did ?Ulysses? Gaze,? starring Harvey Keitel, in 1995. The coveted prize was awarded instead to Emir Kusturica for ?Underground,? marking one of the Greek filmmaker?s not-so-finest moments, when he commented, ?If this is what you have to give me, I have nothing to say,? as he was given the jury award.
The Golden Palm, however, did become his in 1998 with ?Eternity and a Day,? again co-written with Guerra and starring Bruno Ganz and Isabelle Renauld.
In the new millennium, Angelopoulos slowed down, working on the epic project ?The Weeping Meadow,? which was released in 2003 as the first part of a trilogy that was not and now will not be completed.
?The Dust of Time? (2008) was the last film he would complete.
Summing up Angelopoulos?s body of work is best done in the words of the famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa: ?Through his lens, Angelopoulos looks at things in silence. This kind of filmmaking, so personal and unique in its particularity, tends to return to the roots of cinema.?