Eternity and a day

Theodoros Angelopoulos

Greece, 1998



The Teacher Guide consists of useful notes, bibliographical information and approaches to film, and is supposed to function in support of the activities designed for the film proposed.

Key information is provided on the historical and social context within which the film was produced. This contextualization will help the students understand in depth the creators’ motives and intentions. The formative elements of the genre of each film are presented and framed through film reviews and other kinds of text. All material is designed to broaden teaching approaches and methodologies across the curriculum, and to renegotiate the process of learning through the use of film. It is worth mentioning that the activities are designed so as to adapt to the standards of your team and serve your needs according to the time you have available.

1. Before moving on to the activities proposed, please refer to the Glossary section. You will find the definitions cited particularly useful in implementing the activities.
2. Activity 1 could be linked to Literature and Composition classes. The first set of questions will help students identify the common characteristics between literature and film. These questions contribute to the understanding of narrative plot devices, eg. the process of turning literary heroes into film characters, the way in which expressive means of language (metaphors, similes, etc.) are rendered through camera movement, the specificity of space and time lapses when filtered through editing, and so on.
3. Activity 2 may be combined with Essay Writing (chapter: Presentation/Criticism/Summary). Reading and analyzing film reviews may help students improve their summary writing.
4. In the context of Activity 3, you can spend some time discussing the narrative power of the camera to illustrate symbols and abstract concepts like time.
5. Activity 4 can be employed in the teaching of every school course. It provides fertile ground for discussion as per the decisions a director needs to take (space, time of shooting, etc.) depending on his/her goals and intentions (check manuals: setting). We believe that it can depart from a building in the area and can be combined with research on the local history, depending on the time available. Our goal is to trigger the students’ creativity and imagination!



Nostalgia (subtheme: stocktaking)
Family structures (Subtheme: patrimonial relations, communication)
Association: First Grade of Senior High, Composition


The Context

What happens in cinema theaters in the 1990s?

After facing the box office crisis of the 80s, cinema “decides” to bring the people back to the theatres. Multiplex cinemas lead Greek cinema to adopt a fast paced aesthetics, full of elements of the comedic genre, medium shots and close-ups, dialogues with of advertising-like catchphrases, or light-hearted themes that are presented with a pinch of salt. The sold tickets skyrocketed to the level of six-digit numbers: a phenomenon that repeated the glory of the golden age of Greek cinema, that fell into decay in the early 1970s.

New technologies and digital cinema give us the opportunity to boost the production, explore new possibilities, and open a creative dialogue with television. These activities were reinforced by the European co-productions and the presence of the support funds Eurimages and Eurofound, which opened up new perspectives for European Cinema. Digital shooting and image processing drastically reduce the production costs, they allow more young people to acquire a hands-on experience on an art field that was previously “forbidden” due to its high cost, while at the same time they acquaint many aspiring directors with the expressive means of the seventh art, without the restrictions of a demanding production system. In this undeniably unprecedent situation that is still under construction and full of challenges and potentials, emerges tomorrow’s cinema.

The Thessaloniki Cinema Museum in 8 Sources (official catalogue)

The Title

The following extract is complementary to activity No. 1 (General Discussion).

During the preview, I vaguely begin to remember the Swedish author Per Olov Enquist’s wonderful and in several of his books just slightly varied metaphor of the eternity as a big rock, to which a bird every day returns to sharpen its beak. When the bird in this way has ground down the rock, eternity ends. Besides, this reminds me of the exchange of words that the title of Angelopoulos new film originates from. “How long is tomorrow?” asks the dying poet Alexander his already deceased wife Anna in one of the film’s flashbacks towards a happier time. “Eternity and one day,” she replies. It is then during the journey towards this day of tomorrow, i.e. a sort of eternity where there is time enough for almost anything to happen, when Alexander is about to enter the hospital never to leave, that the film is set. The little Albanian refugee boy with no name rushes towards Alexander’s car in order to wash his windscreen at a traffic light.

The following excerpt is complementary to Activity No. 1 (General Discussion):

Eternity constitutes a composition. Initially, three ideas came up for the shooting of three different films: the last day of a cancer patient who is about to be hospitalized – and most probably won’t make it; the topic on the children of the streets; and the idea of a film about the national poet Dionysios Solomos. After several discussions with Tonino Guerra and Petros Markaris, Angelopoulos brought them together in one film. The writing process of the script has been described by Petros Markaris in a recently published book under the title The Diary of an Eternity. Concerning the selection of the film’s protagonist, the director came across several obstacles. He wanted Marcello Mastroianni but he was very sick. He turned to Jean-Louis Trintignant, but he just got out of the hospital. He tried to find Erland Josephson, but he had a heart attack. He had some doubts for Bruno Ganz – the actor who finally got the part – because he was a Wim Wenders actor…  The shooting was completed in two different instalments in Thessaloniki and in Ouranoupoli of Chalkidiki region, during the autumn of 1997 and the winter and spring of 1998 respectively. The Palme d’Or in Cannes Film Festival that was awarded to the film the previous spring allowed it to be promoted in 42 countries. It is the first Greek film that finds distribution in so many countries, after Zorba the Greek by Michael Cacoyannis.

Konstantinos Themelis, Theodoros Angelopoulos: The Past as a History, the Future as a Form, Athens: Ypsilon 1998.


The following excerpt is complementary to Activity No. 1 (4. Historical and Social Context, Excerpt A):

According to Heidegger (and as cited by Angelopoulos), “our only home is our mother tongue”, and Alexandros repeats it: “Because the only moments I came back were the ones when I got the opportunity to speak my language… my own language… When I could still find the lost words or to drag up from the silence forgotten ones, why only then I could listen to my steps again resonate in the house? Question and affirmation at the same time. The task to regain our mother tongue means that we ought to regain our personal one first, however, our historical and cultural identity, meeting again with our roots and our history, means to re-discover the magical power of language, setting it free from the cultural and political corruption of the modern world. Solomos regained his mother tongue, the forgotten one, paying a price for every single word that was offered to him. That is the significance of his work and that is creativity: we pay a price for the words we save from oblivion in order to conclude a work which could remain incomplete, for which we shall continue to give a fight. However, poetry cannot be sold out, so, it confronts obstacles. However, poetry is the only thing that can change the world, because it’s the only true revolution.

Paola Minucci, “The Only True Revolution,” Elephtherotypia, 20 November 1998


The following excerpt can be used as a complement to Activity No 3.

–Of course, there’s the theme of the memory in the film…

–The theme of memory… Yes. However, the past we carry with us is continuously present. The work I’ve formerly done on the concept of the present and the past was based on the historical time, based on a collective memory, as described in the film The Travelling Players. Here, a clear perception of one personal time exists, focusing on one individual. The truth is that in every film of mine a certain work on the theme of time takes place. In the previous film there is the famous scene where in one year time all the historical times are introduced. However, here everything is focused on one individual, in-between reality and imagination. A certain level of reality exists, but in the very next moment it is overturned by one aspect of the imaginary, it is either confused or diffused. The perpetual game of time between the present, the past and the projection towards the future, is continuous throughout the film.

[…] Yet, memory alters everything…

Yes, it surely does. The difference is that it doesn’t matter that everything alters, because everything is experienced as a reality at the same time. Let me give you an example. I was in Paris and they asked me from a famous T.V. show of the French television to visit the Greek House “Cite Universitaire,” where I passed my first years when I was in Paris. In my mind the House was really big and luminous. When I got there, I saw a small House, dark streets, a dark and small room. However, in my mind everything stayed luminous and big. This is what happens in the film. There’s been sweetness in the things that comes out from the memory, which softens them and at the same time it dilates them, because it needs that kind of dilation.

Theodoros Angelopoulos, interview to Nino Fenek Mikelidis, Epsilon, 1998, History of Greek Cinema (Volume 5, documents 1970-2000)


The following excerpt can be used as a complement to Activity No 4 (Step 2)

The film Eternity and a Day is a “return” film: to moments in which we didn’t wait and we quickly surpassed, images we didn’t have the time to enjoy, thoughts that remained incomplete, words we have never uttered because silence overtook them. It is no coincidence that the director re-creates (variations of) landscapes from his earlier filmography, that he develops scenes that he hadn’t been able to complete in the past, simply by allowing insinuations to flourish. A film that catches us by surprise, like a forgotten, creased letter we discover at the back of a drawer, whose reading brings melancholy and moves us, a letter that drips slowly and painfully” like the poet’s lyrics:   που σταλάζει αργά και βασανιστικά όπως οι στίχοι του ποιητή: “Come back often and take hold of me, sensation that I love come back and take hold of me… ” Only difference is that the director resists this instigation.

Maria Katsounaki, Kathimerini, 23 October 1998, History of Greek Cinema (Volume 5, documents 1970-2000)

  1. Narrate

The following excerpt can be used as a complement to Activity No 4 (Step 2)

 In Eternity… a remarkable model sequence takes place. Alexandros crosses the room (physically and mentally as well) of his existence. His slow thoughts: rare, intense words, full of nostalgia, giving a life’s review. Alexandros turns the stereo on, he listens to the music, he turns it off and walks to the window. A stranger repeats, like an answer to a call, the same musical phrase that Alexandros has just listened. The film camera, from Alexandros’ point of view, frames the window where the music comes from and after a while a curtain alone moving by the wind: a thin fabric barrier. In this simple and ordinary image a great rate of emotions are included, and it feels like Alexandros’ psychological condition has been crystallized: his desire and his fears towards the discovery of the other, his subsurface delectation to live everything unstated.

Michele Francesco Afferrante, “Un cinema d’interiorità” / “A Cinema of Interiority,” in AA.VV, Art, Life and Cinematic Representation, Rome: Εnte dello spettacolo, pontificio della cultura, 1999


The following excerpt can be used as a complement to Activity No 1 (3. Film Language, Excerpt B) and Activity No. 4)

Angelopoulos is the European art film in propria persona. The advantages of this genre can easily be turned into its disadvantages. Everything it says can easily be turned against it. The same day as the preview of Eternity and a Day, Angelopoulos latest film and the winner of the Golden Palm in Cannes 1998 takes place, the newspapers announce in broad headlines that NATO has decided to bomb Yugoslavia. For the first time NATO attacks a sovereign state without the backing of the United Nations. One million people are expected to be forced to leave their homes. On the radio, the Swedish author Kerstin Ekman on the verge of tears speaks nobly and anachronistically about the intellectuals’ responsibility to “do something”, not to wage war but rousing public opinion… The question is who suffers the most in Eternity and a Day. The little boy who has ran away from Albania to the streets of Greece, from one nothingness to another, or the dying poet suffering from cancer who fights just as much his inability to live in the present as he fights for survival. However, it is truly a miserably situation the people that inhabits Angelopoulos’ films finds themselves in, a world that some days bears a closer resemblance to the surrounding world than other days. Day B as in Bombing is surely such a day. During these conditions, it is very hard to fend off Eternity and a Day. It brought tears to my eyes already at the beginning of the film. Watching it once again at night on video, the almost shocking emotional onrush still lingers.



European Films For Innovative Audience / Designed by Freelance Creative