Historical Argument, Involuntary Memory, and the Subversion of Balkanist Discourse within Theo Angelopoulos’ Ulysses’ Gaze

by Alain Chouinard Volume 20, Issue 2 / February 2016 27 minutes (6650 words)

Throughout the late twentieth century, the gaze of the western media has continuously reduced the Balkans 1 into what Slajov Zizek has termed a “spectacle of a timeless, incomprehensible, mythical cycle of passions.” 2 In his book European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood (2005), Thomas Elsaesser has similarly recognized the presence of this dehistoricizing gaze upon the Balkans within the West. 3 Theo Angelopoulos’ historical epic Ulysses’ Gaze (1995) confronts this reality within its narrative. In an exchange between the film’s unnamed Odysseus-like protagonist A., played by Harvey Keitel, and his journalist friend Niko, Niko specifically alludes to western media’s tendency to construct Balkan history:

A.: How do journalists manage to get to the war zone? Isn’t it terribly risky?

Niko: A rhetorical answer…off-hand…Danger is my business, but the truth is that most of the correspondents when they want to send in a story or the latest news go to various army units outside Belgrade and stage the war there…at the cost of a few dollars.

Seeking to define this existing western discourse, Maria Todorova has adopted the term “Balkanism” and, while it is similar to Edward Said’s characterization of Orientalism, its undertones of territorial instability differentiate it from the latter. 4 In common with Orientalist representations of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, Balkanism constructs the Balkans as a symbol “conveniently located outside historical time.” 5 However, Dina Iordanova has stated that, in opposition to this ahistorical process, the new Balkan cinema created by filmmakers like Theo Angelopoulos have begun to unearth formerly “hushed histories” within the Balkan past. 6 In Ulysses’ Gaze, A. undertakes a journey across the Balkans in search of three undeveloped reels shot by the Manakis brothers, two early 20th century Greek filmmakers who captured crucial, historical changes within the Balkans through cinema. A. desperately wishes to free this lost gaze upon the Balkans because it is not constructed by a biased western perspective, nor is it blinded by the seemingly pervading sense of darkness and chaos that he feels to be present within the former Yugoslavia of the early 1990s. Through this idealistic quest, A. nostalgically wishes to complete a cycle and re-connect with an intangible Balkan “home” or Ithaca embodied by his lost beloved, who is played by Maia Morgenstern. Once accomplished, it is his belief that “time will be whole again” and it may finally be possible for the cycle of violence and separation in the Balkans to end.

Although Ulysses’ Gaze may initially seem to operate under a cyclical conception of Balkan history similar to that perpetuated by Balkanism, Angelopoulos’ affective use of a long take style, the film’s very specific representation of historical cyclicality, and its original presentation of involuntary memory re-historicize the Balkans by foregrounding an indivisible conception of temporality and historical continuity. Through these diverse means, Angelopoulos injects historical arguments into the film’s subtext and offers a unique alternative to the Balkanist gaze, which links A.’s personal sense of past and ongoing historical events to a shared collective experience of the Balkan past and present.

Ulysses’ Gaze: Long Takes and the Temporalization of Space

Analyzing Angelopoulos’ renowned long take style, David Bordwell has enumerated several formal and narrative features that his films manipulate within long takes in order to slow down a shot’s dramatic rhythm; they include the sparseness of the frame, muted action, and dead intervals within his distanced long takes. 7 Through these deliberate attempts to extend the viewer’s experience of temporality, Angelopoulos’ long takes, instead of masking time, foregrounds its Bergsonian duration, a spectatorial effect that is evident within Ulysses’ Gaze. 8 Angelopoulos himself has stated that his “style is a way of trying to assimilate space and time, so that space _becomes the passing of time.” 9 This view echoes Gilles Deleuze’s conception of a time-image, a cinematic product that emerges when the sensory-motor connections of the movement image are disturbed and movement across space becomes the perspective of time. 10 Rather than deny a space’s temporal and historical dimension as within the western discourse of “Balkanism,” Angelopoulos’ long takes conflate the spatial context of a certain Balkan nation with the passage of time and historical change embodied within this take. Fredric Jameson has even argued that Angelopoulos’ long takes achieve an authentic “third temporality,” which disrupts a false notion of objective “real-time” and poetically embraces the historical materiality of space and its distinct internal rhythms. 11 Supporting this view, Angelopoulos has asserted that: “It is equally important to mention that through the sequence shot it is possible to preserve both unity of space and unity of time.” 12

An example of this foregrounding of duration can be felt in Ulysses’ Gaze when an approximately three minute lateral tracking shot passes the umbrella-wielding citizens of Florina and the ongoing screening of Angelopoulos’ own The Suspended Step of the Stork (1991), a camera movement that is simultaneously accompanied by the periodic ringing of the city’s bells. The recurring bells, the static character of these citizens, and the gradual movement of the tracking camera all contribute to slow down the shot’s rhythm; as a result, its duration becomes perceptible. Given that the protests that later follow this sequence stem from Angelopoulos’ own personal history, 13 this specific long take could also be said to evoke its own type of historical materiality. After this shot concludes, another extended tracking shot accompanies A.’s monologue on the changes in Florina since the Greek Civil war of 1944 to 1949. Accompanied by A.’s words, this four minute long take underlines how the passage of time becomes perceptible only as a result of changes in space, whether it is a missing house, an absent army barracks or a fortunate lack of “cropped heads” from communist partisans. In this same sequence, A, surprised by the continuing existence of a house, also realizes that certain material traces survive the passage of time. Throughout this long take, A.’s companion repeatedly asks him to specify his memories’ location in time, so that his intellect can spatialize it in the Bergsonian sense. 14 However, A. has a widely different conception of temporality. Like the long take itself, A refuses to spatialize or divide time through edits or by localizing it in the past; instead, he experiences a continuous form of temporality in which the past and the present co-exist as a whole through memory.

A similar temporalization of space occurs during the long take in which an elderly Albanian woman, who has asked A. for a ride, is unable to recognize her home town, Korytsa. She has been separated from it and her sister for 47 years after the civil war in Albania from 1939-1944 and, as Anne Rutherford suggests, Angelopoulos foregrounds her sense of alienation in this now temporalized space. 15 In addition, the long takes of A.’s sojourn at the Bosnian widow’s home visualize the past’s material effects and continual presence through its gradual display of the ruined home. A similar impression can be felt during the long takes exposing the ruins of Vukovar, Mostar, and the Krijena area that were caused by the Yugoslav civil war of 1991 within Serbia and Croatia; these cities and regions stand in for Sarajevo in Ulysses’ Gaze. 16 The past’s traces in the present exemplified by ruins can, likewise, be seen within the four minute long take of A. seeking Levy amidst the ruined landscape of Sarajevo. During these moments, Rutherford argues that time “is not the passing of this intense, fleeting experience of the ephemeral moment, not its undoing, but the intensification of the experience through duration.” 17 As a result, she believes that Angelopoulos’ long takes of such evocative scenes capture the “affective potential of the embodied sensory/material experiences of cinema” 18 and transmits it to the participating spectator. Ultimately, Angelopoulos’ long take style constructs material and poetic evocations of ongoing historical moments that hold the potential to make him feel as if he is directly “living the experiences.” 19 Through the intensity of their gaze, Angelopoulos’ long takes poetically evoke an affective experience of a truly historical space that rejects the dehistoricizing process of Balkanism.

The Long Take as a Means of Temporal Compression and Historical Argument

The foregrounding of a shot’s undifferentiated duration is further developed when Angelopoulos conflates different temporal registers and compresses time within his long takes. Andrew Horton has stated that this temporal compression compels spectators to meditate on the images’ meaning and their historical significance. 20 In Ulysses’ Gaze, the first instance of what Horton calls Angelopoulos’ time-destroying technique 21 first occurs during the film’s opening scene when the 40 years between Yannakis’ death in 1954 and A.’s visit to a former friend in 1994 near the sea are compressed together within a three minute take that is marked by a movement from black and white to colour, a lateral tracking shot towards A.’s conversation, and the camera’s return to the space where Yannakis gazed upon a ship and died. Similarly, after being interrogated by Bulgarian soldiers, a bewildered A. relives Yannakis’ exile in 1916 22 and returns to Kali, an archivist from Monastir, at the Bulgarian border, all within a four minute long take. Interestingly, these two examples of temporal compression within Angelopoulos’ film adhere to Deleuze’s notion of the “crystal image.” 23 The term signifies a conflation of the virtual (past) and the actual (present) in the mind of the spectator. 24 In a 1996 interview with Dan Fainaru, Angelopoulos explains his intention behind this conflation of different temporal realms within his long takes and echoes Deleuze’s concept: “Every moment of our lives consists of the past and the present, the real and the imaginary, all of them blending together into one.” 25 Before the film’s famous New Year sequence in Costanza, a third example of this stylistic choice emerges as A., initially aboard a train with Kali, is transported from the Bucharest of 1994 to that of 1945 by his mother within an approximately three minute long take.

However, the film’s most famous example of temporal compression occurs when A. and his mother finally arrive at his family’s 1945 home in Costanza. Within an approximately eleven minute long take, A. moves from the end of the German occupation and the release of its prisoners in 1945 to the Soviet occupation of Romania in 1950. Throughout this entire sequence, A. is introduced to each of his family members, who are all eagerly awaiting the return of his father from a WWII concentration camp. As A. and his mother greet relatives, the camera tracks through the house’s expansive rooms and eventually returns to the house’s lobby, its starting point, where it finally rests and frames the family as they dance and celebrate the 1945 New Year. This celebration is, however, cut short by the arrival of members from the People’s Confiscation Committee (PCC), who arrest A.’s uncle, Langilos. Before he departs, Langilos declares Happy New Year, and it is now revealed to be 1948. A temporal shift has occurred within the ongoing shot. Framed by a static camera, the dancing resumes until the same PCC members return to confiscate the family’s property and A.’s resistant father belatedly asks for a family picture to celebrate the 1950 New Year. A., who has been off-screen for the last section of this long take, returns to the frame as his childhood self and the camera zooms upon his face.

Referring to this scene, Anne Rutherford has stated that, “in Ulysses’ Gaze, sensory experience is a dilation of time, like a slow-release time-bomb . . . time is an accumulation, a layering: more like laying tracks one over the other, than a collage of disparate moments.” 17 The temporal “layering,” or compression, resulting from this long take’s continuous ellipses in historical time defies a spatialized conception of temporality in which time is divided into incongruous tenses. Despite the vocal cues signaling a change in years, it remains impossible to ascertain the exact moment during which the temporal ellipsis occurs due to the fixed camera and the relative lack of change in the mise-en-scène. In his article “Temporality as Historical Argument in Bertolucci’s 1900,” Robert Burgoyne argues that Bernado Bertolucci’s conflation of different temporal registers via the long take within his film 1900 (1976) “construct a temporal relationship which will express the perspective the film imposes on the past.” 27 Similarly, within Ulysses Gaze’s New Year scene, a historical argument is being made concerning the resilience of Romanians and Greek immigrants in the face of the recurring cycle of oppression within their land. More importantly, this long take emphasizes Angelopoulos’ belief that Romanian history is continuous and the traumatic effects of the Soviet occupation of Romania still linger in the present for A. and its citizens. This argument is implicitly connected to a subsequent tracking shot in which Romanian citizens cross themselves and wave in reaction to a passing Lenin statue, a physical embodiment of Romania’s Soviet past lingering within the present. In defiance of Balkanism’s ahistoricism, Angelopoulos’ perspective on temporality conveyed by these long takes acknowledges the continuous influence of the historical past in the Balkans and does not erase the existence of Balkan history.

Temporality, the Cyclical Character of History, and the Subversion of Balkanism within Ulysses’ Gaze

By acknowledging the interconnected character of different temporal realms, Angelopoulos simultaneously recognizes the almost cyclical character of historical events found within the Balkans. Marinos Pourgouris, for instance, has argued that the cyclical character of Angelopoulos’ film derives itself from the structure of myth and the film’s many allusions to Homer’s The Odyssey and, ultimately, avoids the essentialistic and ahistorical character of Balkanism. 28 Excluding the explicit traces of this circularity within the film’s dialogue, 29 this mythic form of recurrence is reinforced by shots such as the aforementioned long take of the New Year celebrations in Costanza, where a historical cycle of imprisonment and repression is represented. In addition, the film’s cyclical character is particularly emphasized by the casting of Maia Morgenstern as multiple inhabitants of the film’s Balkan landscape: A’s sought-after “Penelope” figure amidst the protests of Florina, an archivist named Kali within present Monastir, a Bosnian widow in WWI Bulgaria, and Naomi Levy in a war-torn Sarajevo. 30 Played by the same actress, the appearance of these figures implicitly links the diverse experiences of various nationalities within the Balkans, thus constructing a Balkan collectivity whose often traumatic experiences hold many parallels. This sense of recurrence can also be found within the psychological motivations of the film’s characters. For example, A.’s desire to complete a definite return is echoed by the Bosnian widow who seeks to re-experience her past life with her dead husband, Vanya, by confining A. to her ruined home and dressing him in Vanya’s military uniform. Nevertheless, the film’s most prominent examples of historical cyclicality appear when A.’s memories allow him to relive the past in the present. For instance, when A. relives, at the Bulgarian border, a temporally compressed interpretation of Yannakis’ arrest and exile in 1916, he is experiencing Bulgaria’s expansionist tendencies in WWI and misgivings about the threat of individuals in Macedonia to these goals. Once A. is exiled as Yannakis and returns to the present to confront a border guard in the same take, he identifies his present destination as Philippopolis; the Bulgarian guard, however, corrects him with the word “Plovdiv” and repeats it as if to assert it as Bulgarian territory. In the past, Plovdiv was called Philippopolis because it was a conquest of Philip II’s Macedonian empire. 31 This disagreement parallels the constructed memory, which A. has just experienced, in that it underlines Bulgaria’s continuing fear of the Macedonian problem and concern with territorial issues. 32 The connection of these different temporal states by seemingly continuous transitions reveals the co-existence of the past and present and the cyclical character of Balkan history. As a result of the latter subtext, Angelopoulos’ film could be accused of replicating a Balkanist perception of the region’s never-ending violence and tension. For instance, a friend of A. in Florina declares that “The Balkan reality is much tougher than the sort of reality you knew in America. You’re sailing in dark waters now.” These words imply that the Balkans are a perpetually “dark” place.

In contrast, according to Burgoyne in his analysis of 1900, the “refashioning of historical time as the time of recurrence . . . is rather a refusal to view the past retrospectively, a refusal to set . . . the moment for effecting change, solely in the past.” 33 In Ulysses’ Gaze, A., likewise, attempts to find a sense of change in the present by releasing a more stable, past image of the Balkans found within the Manakis brothers’ three undeveloped reels as well as through his encounters with the Penelope-like figures embodied by Morgenstern and other citizens. However, unlike Balkanism’s cyclical conception of history, the cyclical instances of violence or repression within the Balkans depicted in the film and found in the lives of Sarajevo’s inhabitants, for example, are grounded in historical fact. 34 More importantly, these representations are connected to more positive images of renewal such as the family’s New Year celebrations, a multicultural choir composed of Serbs and Bosnian Muslims, the “dancing in Sarajevo” scene, and a Bosnian production of Romeo and Juliet. The film’s representation of Balkan history is thus not one of continual degeneration, nor linear progress, but one that underlines how a cyclical conception of history can result in moments of renewal and change as well as the repetition of past mistakes. The film’s affective long takes and their embrace of an indivisible duration carry, within them, this realm of possibility. Ultimately, the film’s disruption of the strict causality and linearity, which typically characterize historical films, and its continuous representation of Balkan history through long takes memories all contribute to the formation of historical arguments that recognize the Balkan past’s connection to its present.

Involuntary Memory: The Intersection of Subjectivity and Collective History

Despite Ulysses Gaze’s unique representation of Balkan history as blending past, present, and future, Fredric Jameson believes that the narrative’s individualistic journey and the psychologization of its visual content diminishes the originality of Angelopoulos’ distinct construction of temporality. 35 An example of this psychologization of temporality occurs during the “foggy days” sequence in Sarajevo when A. dances with Ivo Levy’s daughter, Naomi, and the music slows down to signal a movement into A.’s memories. Within this three minute long take, A. subjectively relives a past conversation with his former beloved before he was forced to leave her. In contrast to such moments, Jameson prefers the “unmotivated” collective sense of history and temporal experience that he interprets to be present in Angelopoulos’ The Travelling Players (1975). 36 In this film, seamless movements in history within a long take are not directly linked to a specific character’s memory or subjectivity, and appear unmotivated by psychology. An example of this stylistic trait in The Travelling Players, for instance, appears within a long take that follows a campaign vehicle promoting Marshall Alexander Papagos for position of Prime Minister during the 1952 elections in Greece until the camera pans back to the left with a black car to its original point and transports the viewer to the German occupation of Greece from 1941 to 1944. This temporal transition occurs without any overt signal that would characterize it as the pure product of a specific character’s subjectivity.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that Jameson’s argument is inherently prescriptive and ignores the individual’s connection to a greater Balkan collectivity through memory. In her own work, Todorova has specifically criticized Jameson’s essentialistic conception of collective memory. 37 In actuality, Ulysses’ Gaze does not avoid a sense of collectivity and A.’s movements in time do not occur in a vacuum. A portrait of Balkan collectivity is, in fact, formed as a result of various narrative elements such as the evocative long takes of Albanian refugees, A.’s numerous encounters with Balkan citizens like the Greek cab driver, and, lastly, scenes like the boat ride to Belgrade during which Romanian peasants on the shore collectively react to the passage of the Lenin statue.

Offering an alternative to the individual/collective binary in her article “Writing the Individual Back into Collective Memory” (1997), Susan Crane has suggested that collective memory emerges from historically conscious individuals, who claim their knowledge of history as part of their lived experience; more importantly, she asserts that these memories are shaped by a collective environment. 38 In her opinion, collective memory offers “no break between [the] awareness of the past and its presence in the present, and nothing can be lost in this continuum.” 38 Similar to the long takes in Ulysses’ Gaze, the memories experienced by A. embody this type of continuum between the past and the present. In opposition to her definition of collective memory, she draws upon Maurice Halbwachs’ notion of historical memory and defines it as a marker of a historical moment in which memory is detached from its social origins and, instead, rooted in chronology and factual detail. 40 Complementing Crane’s distinct conception of collective memory, A.’s experiences of the past, while subjective, are evoked within a greater Balkan collectivity and these memories are frequently involuntary. According to David Gross, involuntary memory, unlike Bergson’s conception of habit and pure recollection, is a type of memory that comes unwillingly from the recesses of pure memory and unsettles the individual in the present. 41 Writing on the film, Rutherford has asserted that the “sensory evocation of this involuntary memory is the key to understanding the affective power of Angelopoulos’ exploration of Balkans history.” 42 Rutherford is specifically referring to the involuntary memories evoked within the film’s spectators rather than the unexpected memories resulting from A.’s sensory experiences within the diegesis. It is my belief that the concept of involuntary memory is equally applicable to A.’s subjective experience of Balkan history.

For example, when A. visualizes himself in the place of Yannakis during the latter’s exile, he appears unsettled by his presence in the past and declares “I don’t understand,” thus signaling his lack of control over the past events that he is forced to witness. Similarly, A.’s memories about the New Year celebrations in Costanza are not consciously channeled and, instead, are initiated by his mother who guides him from the Bucharest train to his family’s home. As suggested by Francoise Létoublon, this latter involuntary memory, although seemingly subjective, gradually moves towards a more collective representation of A.’s family when the dancing begins and a family photograph with A. now in his childhood body is taken. 43 Although Crane’s conception of memory accepts the importance of the individual as well as the personal construction of history that Jameson ignores, 44 it should also be recognized that the details of A.’s memories like the New Year celebrations in Costanza simultaneously emerge from within both a familial context and a collectivity of Romanian citizens. Furthermore, representations of A.’s involuntary memories always appear when he is near a new Balkan space. One of the more relevant examples of this narrative pattern occurs when, in his attempt to reach Sarajevo, A. encounters a Bosnian widow from WWI, who warns him of the approaching Plovdiv soldiers and brings him to an isolated house in ruins. While this turn of events is implicitly linked to Yannakis’ exile in Plovdiv, it remains difficult to motivate this sequence as a purely subjective memory of A. Consequently, it conflates A.’s distinct memories of Yannakis’ exile with the more collective experience of Balkan citizens living in fear amidst the artillery warfare of WWI, a shared experience that is personalized by the widow. Iordanova believes the sequence occurs in an “unidentified historical time,” 45 but, given the widow’s description of the Entente and Central powers during a dinner scene with A., it can be assumed that it is set after the entry of Bulgaria into the war on the side of the Central powers in 1915. Nevertheless, like the film’s other memory sequences, it remains difficult to spatialize it in the past and locate its exact temporal context, 46 particularly since it is composed of long takes and elliptical segments.

In addition to embodying A.’s involuntary memory, this particular sequence contains the same long take style witnessed previously in the film and, likewise, constructs a historical argument that is linked to a greater Balkan context. Within an almost five minute long take, A. wakes up and, as the camera follows him to the right, discovers the widow washing and hanging his clothes by the lake. Suddenly, artillery fire is heard and, with the camera gradually moving to frame a doorway, the widow rushes into the decaying house in order to crouch in safety with A. The use of a long take and an elevated depth of field within the shot’s poetic construction authentically conveys the fear produced by such WWI experiences. This involuntary memory of WWI artillery fire and gun shots then visually connects itself to the present through a cut to the similar bombardments and gunshots experienced by A. and other Balkan citizens in Sarajevo. Again, a historical argument, which reconciles the Balkan past and present, shapes itself and reveals the parallels between the suffering of this Bosnian widow amidst WWI and that of the Bosnian Muslims in Sarajevo during the Bosnian civil war. Thus, an episode, which initially seems to be tied to A.’s subjectivity, can actually be perceived as an involuntary memory interlinked with a distinctly Balkan context and acknowledge subjectivity’s role within collective memory.

Although this aforementioned episode is initiated by the widow waking A. in the past, several of A.’s involuntary memories begin with a tracking shot or a pan within a long take from A.’s back to the off-screen center of his attention. This formal technique, for instance, appears when A. glances outside his train in Bucharest in the present and sees his mother walking by the station, thus signaling a temporal movement to the WWII context of 1945. The formally constructed continuity of this long take implies that, unlike Crane’s initial definition of historical memory, A.’s involuntary memory preserves a connection to the past that does not separate the latter from the present or mark an overt break into his subjectivity. The film’s original representation of memory also blends the fictional narrative with actual documentary footage including the Manakis brothers’ The Weavers (1905). For example, once A. arrives in Monastir and stops near the former doorway of the Manakis brothers’ studio, the camera pans, following his gaze, until it stops on the doorway. Afterwards, a match cut of the doorway appears in black and white, followed by a montage of documentary images conveying the Macedonian experience of the Balkan wars and WWI. This match cut disrupts the sense of linear chronology typically found in historical films through its formal juxtaposition of the past and the present in an almost seamless manner. Furthermore, this entire sequence is accompanied by a voice-over of Miltos’ memories of his time in Macedonia with his brother while they were working at their Monastir studio. Even though the memories of Miltos’ experiences seemingly emerge from A.’s subjectivity, they still offer a glimpse of his lived experience within a greater Balkan collectivity as captured by his footage/gaze. Thus, in spite of Jameson’s critique of the film, Angelopoulos’ Ulysses Gaze, through its unique presentation of involuntary memories and temporal transitions, does not completely categorize A.’s movements into the past as a simple product of his self-enclosed psychology; instead, these involuntary transitions emphasize his personal connection to a greater collective history and environment as well as their forceful influence upon him.


As a result of the film’s aforementioned formal features and its original representation of history and involuntary memory, a partially individualistic conception of collective memory emerges amidst the Balkans and re-historicizes the representation of Balkan history in the present. In her aforementioned article, Crane ultimately argues that historical memory or artifacts are never truly lost and confined to the past if the latter are directly or indirectly experienced by an individual within a collective context. 47 In Ulysses’ Gaze, a similar argument emerges when the three undeveloped reels of the Manakis brothers are equated with their personal gazes and memories. In a personal attempt to restore the connection between historical and collective memory, A. seeks their lost gaze, which, in his opinion, Ivo Levy has selfishly hidden from Balkan society. However, the development of these reels fails to restore the linear sense of “time” and hope that A. desires, and he does not achieve his desired return to a Balkan Ithaca where his “Penelope” awaits. When Ivo and Naomi Levy are killed off-screen by Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo, A. and the viewer experience a prolonged sense of trauma and dread that disrupts the former rhythm of progress and hope initially implied by the carnivalesque festivity in Sarajevo on this “foggy day.” Because their deaths are off-screen and covered by fog, the sacred materiality and internal historicity evoked by the film’s long takes is obstructed. Nevertheless, in contrast to the Balkanist gaze’s self-imposed blindness to the specificity of Balkan history, A. confronts this center of historical trauma with open eyes and integrates this experience into his collective memory. As he watches the projection of the three reels alone, A., echoing the words of Odysseus, calls for another journey and perpetuates the film’s cyclical conception of Balkan experience. However, instead of reinforcing the ahistoricism of Balkanism’s cyclical conception of history, Ulysses’ Gaze constructs an image of the Balkans that portrays history as an ongoing process and never discontinuous from the past. Consequently, A.’s new journey has the possibility to end in the suffering witnessed within Sarajevo or the renewal and pleasure found within his encounters across the Balkans. With all of the lived experience that he has accumulated from other Balkan witnesses and his distinct historical consciousness, A., like the Manakis brothers, gives life to the “hushed histories” of the Balkans through his involuntary memories and refuses to let them linger in the past. Just like A. who experiences the historicity and materiality of specific Balkan locations and retains it within his mind, Rutherford believes that Angelopoulos’ long take style, likewise, enables spectators to gaze and preserve the intense experiences of Balkan history and their materiality within their own corporeal memory. 48 Through Ulysses’ Gaze, the spectator can share Angelopoulos’ cinematic gaze and experience the true complexity and affective power of Balkan history within the specific fragments offered, all of which undermine the homogeneous, timeless, and false representation of the Balkans constructed by a western and “Balkanist” gaze.

Angelopoulos’ Ulysses’ Gaze, through its original use of a long take style, its cyclical conception of history, and its unique representation of collective memory ultimately re-historicizes this region through the intensity of the camera’s gaze and avoids an essentialistic, timeless, and inherently violent representation of the Balkans. Unlike its Balkanist counterpart, the cyclical conception of Balkan history offered by the film is grounded in historical specificity and retains the possibility for renewal. More importantly, Angelopoulos embraces a conception of temporality through his manipulation of long takes that does not spatialize itself into the tenses of past and present or shape a timeless image. Todorova’s call for a new gaze upon the Balkans or, more specifically, former Yugoslavia 49 is echoed in Angelopoulos’ film. Within the individual memories of the film’s spectators, this gaze preserves the historicity and materiality evoked by the representation of a continuous and fluid Balkan history as reflected within Ulysses’ Gaze.


Angelopoulos, Theo, Interview with Geoff Andrew. “Home’s Where the Heart Is: Ulysses’ Gaze,” Theo Angelopoulos: Interviews. Ed. Dan Fainaru. Jackson: University Press of Mississipi, 2001. 89-92.

—Interview with Andrew Horton. “‘What Do our Souls Seek?’: An Interview with Theo Angelopoulos.” The Last Modernist: The Films of Theo Angelopoulos. Ed. Andrew Horton. Wiltshire: Flicks Books, 1997. 96-110.

—Interview with Dan Fainaru. “The Human Experience in One Gaze: Ulysses’ Gaze.” Theo Angelopoulos: Interviews. Ed. Dan Fainaru. Jackson: University Press of Mississipi, 2001. 93-100.

—Interview with Gerald O’Grady. “Angelopoulos’s Philosophy of Film.” Theo Angelopoulos: Interviews. Ed. Dan Fainaru. Jackson: University Press of Mississipi, 2001. 66-74.

—Interview with Frida Liappas and Michel Demopoulos. “A Journey through Greek Landscape and History: The Travelling Players.” Theo Angelopoulos: Interviews. Ed. Dan Fainaru. Jackson: University Press of Mississipi, 2001. 16-22.

Bordwell, David. Figures Traced in Light: On Cinematic Staging. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

Burgoyne, Robert. “Temporality as Historical Argument in Bertolucci’s +_1900_.” Cinema Journal. 28. 57-68.

Christodoulou, Christos K. The Manakis Brothers: The Greek Pioneers of the Balkanic Cinema. Thessaloniki: Organization for the Cultural Capital of Europe, 1999.

Crane, Susan. “Writing the Individual Back into Collective Memory.” The American Historical Review 102:5 (1997): 1372-1385.

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Elsaesser, Thomas. European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005.

Giatzidis, Emil. An Introduction to Post-Communist Bulgaria: Political, Economic, and Social Transformations. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

Gross, David. “Bergson, Proust, and the Reevaluation of Memory.” International Philosophical Quarterly. 25.4. (1985): 369-380.

Hammond, N.G.L. The Macedonian State: Origins, Institutions, and History. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

Horton, Andrew. The Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Iordanova, Dina. Cinema of Flames: Balkan Film, Culture and the Media. London: British Film Institute, 2001.

—“Whose is This Memory?: Hushed Narratives and Discerning Remembrance in Balkan Cinema.” Cineaste. 32.3. (Summer 2007): 22-27.

Jameson, Fredric. “Theo Angelopoulos: the Past as History, the Future as Form.” The Last Modernist: The Films of Theo Angelopoulos. Ed. Andrew Horton. Wiltshire: Flicks Books, 1997. 78-95.

Létoublon, Françoise and Caroline Eades. “Theo Angelopoulos in the Underworld.” Homer in the Twentieth Century: Between World Literature and the Western Canon. Ed. Barbara Graziosi and Emily Greenwood. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. 210-227.

Pourgouris, Marinos. “Ulysses’ Gaze and the Myth of Balkan History.” Mythistory and Narratives of the Nation in the Balkans. Ed. Tatjana Aleksić. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007. 170-194.

Rutherford, Anne. “Precarious Boundaries: Affect, mise-en-scène, and the senses.” Art and the Performance of Memory: Sounds and Gestures of Recollection. London: Routledge, 2002. 63-84.

Todorova, Maria. Imagining the Balkans. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

—“Introduction: Learning Memory, Remembering Identity.” Balkan Identities: Nation and Memory. London: C. Hurst & Co. Ltd., 2004. 1-24.

Totaro, Donato. “Gilles Deleuze’s Bergsonian Film Project.” Offscreen. March 31, 1999. November 27 2008.

Ulysses’ Gaze. Dir. Theo Angelopoulos. Perf. Harvey Keitel, Maia Morgenstern, and Erland Josephson. 1995. DVD. Fox Lorber, 1999.

Zizek, Slajov. “Multiculturalism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism.” New Left Review I/225 (1997): 28-55.


  1. For this paper, however, the Balkans will comprise, as suggested by Iordanova, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, and Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, Romania, Moldova, and Turkey. See Dina Iordanova, Cinema of Flames: Balkan Film, Culture and the Media (London: British Film Institute, 2001) 7.
  2. Slajov Zizek. “Multiculturalism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism,” New Left Review I/225 (1997): 38.
  3. Thomas Elsaesser, European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005) 358-359.
  4. Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997) 10-11, 119.
  5. Todorova, Imagining the Balkans 7.
  6. Dina Iordanova, “Whose is This Memory?: Hushed Narratives and Discerning Remembrance in Balkan Cinema,” Cineaste 32.3. (Summer 2007): 22-23.
  7. David Bordwell, Figures Traced in Light: On Cinematic Staging (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005) 164, 180.
  8. Donato Totaro, “Gilles Deleuze’s Bergsonian Film Project,” Offscreen March 31, 1999. November 27 2008.
  9. Theo Angelopoulos. Interview with Geoff Andrew. “Home’s Where the Heart Is: Ulysses’ Gaze,” Theo Angelopoulos: Interviews Ed. Dan Fainaru. (Jackson: University Press of Mississipi, 2001) 92.
  10. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. (London: The Athlone Press, 1989) 22-23.
  11. Fredric Jameson, “Theo Angelopoulos: the Past as History, the Future as Form,” The Last Modernist: The Films of Theo Angelopoulos Ed. Andrew Horton. (Wiltshire: Flicks Books, 1997) 82-83.
  12. Theo Angelopoulos, Interview with Frida Liappas and Michel Demopoulos, “A Journey through Greek Landscape and History: The Travelling Players,” Theo Angelopoulos: Interviews. Ed. Dan Fainaru. (Jackson: University Press of Mississipi, 2001) 22.
  13. Theo Angelopoulos. Interview with Dan Fainaru. “The Human Experience in One Gaze: Ulysses’ Gaze. Theo Angelopoulos: Interviews. Ed. Dan Fainaru. Jackson: University Press of Mississipi, 2001. 93-100.
  14. Donato Totaro, “Gilles Deleuze’s Bergsonian Film Project.” Off Screen March 31, 1999. November 27 2008.
  15. Anne Rutherford, “Precarious Boundaries: Affect, mise-en-scène, and the senses,” Art and the Performance of Memory: Sounds and Gestures of Recollection (London: Routledge, 2002) 70.
  16. Andrew Horton, The Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997) 199.
  17. Rutherford, “Precarious Boundaries: Affect, mise-en-scène, and the senses,” 76.
  18. Rutherford, “Precarious Boundaries: Affect, mise-en-scène, and the senses,” 75.
  19. Horton, The Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation 103.
  20. Horton, The Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation 58.
  21. Horton, The Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation 185.
  22. Christos K Christodoulou, The Manakis Brothers: the Greek Pioneers of the Balkanic Cinema. (Thessaloniki: Organization for the Cultural Capital of Europe, 1999) 68.
  23. Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image 80-81
  24. Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image 80-81.
  25. Angelopoulos, Interview with Dan Fainaru, “The Human Experience in One Gaze: Ulysses’ Gaze,” 98.
  26. Rutherford, “Precarious Boundaries: Affect, mise-en-scène, and the senses,” 76.
  27. Robert Burgoyne, “Temporality as Historical Argument in Bertolucci’s 1900,” Cinema Journal. 28.3. (1989): 64-65.
  28. Marinos Pourgouris, “Ulysses’ Gaze and the Myth of Balkan History,” Mythistory and Narratives of the Nation in the Balkans Ed. Tatjana Aleksić. (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007) 171,183.
  29. Examples can be felt in dialogue fragments such as the words of A.’s Greek cab driver concerning how a dying Greece has “come full circle,” A’s quotation of “East Coker” from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets with the words “In my end is my beginning,” and the toasts of A and Niko in Belgrade to both the sea, “the end and the beginning,” and the “world that hasn’t changed for all our dreaming.”
  30. To obtain a more in-depth analysis of the film’s many mythical parallels, particularly the diverse mythical figures that each incarnation of Morgenstern embody, see Francoise Létoublon and Caroline Eades, “Theo Angelopoulos in the Underworld,” Homer in the Twentieth Century: Between World Literature and the Western Canon. Ed. Barbara Graziosi and Emily Greenwood. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) 210-227.
  31. N.G.L. Hammond, The Macedonian State: Origins, Institutions, and History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989) 183.
  32. Emil Giatzidis, An Introduction to Post-Communist Bulgaria: Political, Economic, and Social Transformations (New York: Palgrave, 2002) 151-153.
  33. Burgoyne, “Temporality as Historical Argument in Bertolucci’s 1900,” 67.
  34. In order to gain an awareness of the film’s fidelity to the historical experiences of the Manakis brothers, see Christos K. Christodoulou, The Manakis Brothers: the Greek Pioneers of the Balkan Cinema. Thessaloniki: Organization for the Cultural Capital of Europe, 1999
  35. Jameson, “Theo Angelopoulos: The Past as History, the Future as Form,” 89.
  36. Jameson, “Theo Angelopoulos: the Past as History, the Future as Form,” 89.
  37. Maria Todorova, “Introduction: Learning Memory, Remembering Identity,” Balkan Identities: Nation and Memory (London: C. Hurst & Co. Ltd., 2004) 5-7.
  38. Susan Crane, “Writing the Individual Back into Collective Memory,” The American Historical Review 102:5 (1997): 1383.
  39. Susan Crane, “Writing the Individual Back into Collective Memory,” The American Historical Review 102:5 (1997): 1383.
  40. Crane, “Writing the Individual Back into Collective Memory,” 377.
  41. David Gross, “Bergson, Proust, and the Reevaluation of Memory,” International Philosophical Quarterly 25.4. (1985): 377.
  42. Rutherford, “Precarious Boundaries: Affect, mise-en-scène, and the senses,” 78.
  43. Létoublon, Francoise and Caroline Eades. “Theo Angelopoulos in the Underworld.” Homer in the Twentieth Century: Between World Literature and the Western Canon. Ed. Barbara Graziosi and Emily Greenwood. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. 218.
  44. Crane, “Writing the Individual Back into Collective Memory,” 1382.
  45. Iordanova, Cinema of Flames: Balkan Film, Culture and the Media. 105.
  46. In his interview with Horton within The Last Modernist: The Films of Theo Angelopoulos (1997), Angelopoulos claims that it occurs “in Bosnia” (102), but the widow’s visual map on a widow in Plovdiv appears to locate her home within Bulgaria.
  47. Crane, “Writing the Individual Back into Collective Memory,” 1382.
  48. Rutherford, “Precarious Boundaries: Affect, mise-en-scène, and the senses,” 78-80.
  49. Todorova, Imagining the Balkans 186-187.

Volume 20, Issue 2 / February 2016 Essays   art cinema   balkan cinema   greek cinema   political cinema   theo angelopoulos