Mia aioniotita kai mia mera
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Synopsis for
Eternity and a Day (1998) More at IMDbPro »Mia aioniotita kai mia mera (original title)

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"Eternity and a Day" (1998) is certainly the most accessible of Angelopoulos' work. The film opens with a shot of a majestic old house. We hear the beginning of the film's main musical theme, followed by a young boy in a voice-over calling young Alexander to join him to see "an ancient city under the sea." Alexander tiptoes past his parents' bedroom, from where emanate a woman's giggles. Once outside the back door of the house, he runs on a short wooden walkway that ends at the beach, where he joins his two friends. He drops his short pants and they all three run into the sea and start swimming toward the open waters.

Cut to Alexander (Bruno Ganz) as an older man, sitting in an armchair. He has just been awakened by his housekeeper, Urania (Helene Gerasimidou). "This is the last day" she says, "Let me come with you to the hospital." Alexander, very philosophically, refuses and he thanks her for her three years of faithful service. She leaves the room, but promptly returns for an ultimate glance at Alexander, on the pretext of reminding him that his dog has eaten, before furtively leaving again. Alexander, now alone, finishes his cup of coffee. The camera moves to show the balcony, where the dog is lying down, and the sea panorama. Alexander turns on his record player which plays the film's theme for a moment. He turns it off, and looking through the window toward the harbor and then toward the adjacent building, he hears an echo of the same music coming from one of the apartments. Alexander says it happens every morning, and he wonders aloud who it might be and why.

Alexander takes his dog for a walk along the harbor. As he walks, he reflects about "how it all started" with Anna (Isabelle Renauld), his dead wife, and how he had left so many of his projects unfinished. Alexander gets into his car and drives onto a main thoroughfare. At an intersection, street urchins take advantage of the red light to rush to the stopped cars and wash their windshields, hoping for tips. A young boy (Achileas Skevis) wearing an oversized yellow parka reaches for Alexander's windshield. The traffic resumes, police sirens are heard, and a group of policemen chase the young "delinquents" down the avenue. Alexander stops his car, opens the passenger door and shouts for the boy in the over-sized parka to get in. The policemen and the other boys run past his car as they watch: the boy has been saved from arrest. They turn into a side street where Alexander stops the car. He asks several questions in Greek to the boy, but the boy does not seem to understand. The boy, an Albanian refugee, gets out of the car, then turns toward Alexander, a stranger, with a big smile of gratitude before running off down the street (we never learn the boys name at any time during the film).

When Alexander meets his daughter, Katerina (Iris Chatziantoniou), he tells her that he must go on a trip and needs her to keep the dog. She refuses, stating that her husband, Nikos (Vassilis Seimenis), does not want any animals in the house. Katerina asks her father about his third project, which was to complete the unfinished poem, "Free Besieged," by Greece's National poet, Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857). Alexander replies that he hasn't finished it: "Maybe I did not find the words?" Alexander hands her a bundle of her mother's letters. One of them lacks an envelope, and he asks her to read it. It is dated 20 September, 1966, the day Katerina was born. She starts reading aloud, and soon we hear Anna, in a voice-over (Pemi Zouni), reading her own letter, full of nostalgia and regrets. Alexander's mind wanders back to that day some twenty years earlier. Anna's physical appearance is as it was on that day, but Alexander appears at his current age. Anna reproaches her husband for never being present, sharing his family's life, instead always traveling, physically or mentally, immersed in his books. Soon, Anna's mother (Alexandra Ladikou), father (Alekos Oudinotis), uncle (Nikos Kouros), and many other relatives arrive to see the new baby. They all run to the beach in front of the house, where Alexander's mother (Despina Bebedelli) is watching over newly born Katerina, asleep in her baby carriage.

The reading ends. Alexander returns to the present, and is leaving when Nikos appears and tells him that they have sold Alexander's old house, which will be demolished, starting that very afternoon. Katerina tries to justify the sale, but Alexander does not want to listen to her excuses, and recalls aloud an event in her life, from the time when she was fifteen years old. Alexander leaves with his dog.

As Alexander stops at a pharmacy to buy a painkiller, he looks across the street and sees the boy in the yellow parka and one of his friends being abducted by two men. He follows the men's car to an abandoned warehouse outside Thessaloniki. Soon, a bus full of middle aged people arrives. The people also enter the warehouse, and Alexander surreptitiously joins them. Inside, we see the boy and many other children, and we realize that these people are probably childless couples who came to buy some of the children. An older boy makes a break for it, and in the ensuing tumult, Alexander grabs the Albanian boy, pays the kidnappers, and walks out of the building with him.

After driving a while, Alexander and the boy stop along the road at a bus stop. Alexander asks the boy if he has any relatives in Albania. The boy says he has a grandmother. Alexander negotiates with a bus driver to take the boy near the border. Alexander feels guilty in abandoning the boy, and he tries to explain to him that he, also, is going on a big journey today. As they walk together to the waiting bus, Alexander asks the boy what the words "korphoula mou" meant in a song the boy was singing. The boy gets on the bus, but as the bus barely starts rolling, it stops again, and he jumps out. Alexander decides to drive the boy to the border himself. On the way, he stops in a kafeneon and considers hiring a taxi to take the boy to the border. However, soldiers come in the kafeneon and the boys runs away. Alexander finds him terrified at a nearby street corner, and he finally decides to take him to the border himself.

As they arrive at the border, in a landscape of mist and snow, the boy talks about the war he witnessed in his village and his escape to Greece with his friend, Selim. The border is a long, high fence to which many people are clinging, their limbs frozen. As Alexander and the boy walk toward the border, the boy admits that he lied, and that there is no "grandmother" on the other side. They run back to the car, pursued by an Albanian border guard. Later on, by the river, they stop for a sandwich from a food-truck. Alexander tells the boy about Solomos, who was born and raised on an Italian island. The camera, after a very long scan over the river, transitions to a man, the poet (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), dressed in 19th century garb. Although of Greek origin, he had been raised and educated in Italy. Inspired by the Greek rebellion against the Ottomans, he returned to his native island and wrote in Demotic Greek, the language of the common people. The legend tells that Solomos, not knowing this language well, used to buy Greek words from the peasants.

Alexander and the boy drive into a village where there is a wedding procession in progress. It is led by an accordionist playing a Ponte piece of music (Ponte is a region in northern Turkey where a massacre of Greeks by the Turks took place in the 1920s, forcing the survivors to return to Greece). The bride follows, dressed in white, and she is in turn followed by the wedding party carrying some chairs. The groom appears from a doorway and, while dancing with his bride and followed by the wedding party, the couple goes to an open area surrounded by a high metal fence. Curious boys are hanging from that fence, in a manner reminiscent of the frozen people on the border fence. Alexander has come there with his dog. He meets his housekeeper, Urania, who reluctantly agrees to keep his dog for him.

Alexander and the boy walk on the pier. Alexander, overcome and sick, sits on a bench. The boy says that he will go and get words for him. Alexander remembers a cruise he took with Anna and his family. Again, we hear Anna in voice-over, recalling her version of that day. Alexander's recollection continues with the same party as before, but they are now on the beach. He decides to climb to the top of a small cliff, and is reprimanded by Anna, who calls him a "traitor." Alexander climbs anyway and explores the summit, where he finds a stone that has been engraved "Christos, Vassillis, Alexander, Summer '39." He then goes to the end of the cliff and waves his handkerchief at a motorboat. A passing plane in the sky brings him back to reality on the pier, where a small group of people move by, carrying a young boy who had been drowning. Alexander meets his doctor, who was among the passersby, and says that he will enter the hospital tonight, as he had been told to do, when the pain gets to be too much.

Cut to Alexander, searching inside a large building under construction for the Albanian boy, who has disappeared. He finds the boy, who is distraught over the death of his friend, Selim, the older boy who had brought him to Thessaloniki. Selim was run over by a bus, and his body now rests at the morgue. Alexander, the boy, and several of Selim's friends go to the morgue, and while Alexander distracts the guard, the boy sneaks into the chamber where Selim's body rests and steals his clothes. What follows is a ritual cremation of Selim's clothes. Many of his friends are hanging onto wooden fences, once more reminiscent of the scene at the border. A mournful clarinet music accompanies the ritual.

Alexander goes to the hospital to see his mother: "I came to say goodbye." But his mother does not hear him, as she is obviously affected by an advanced neurological disease and is only present in a physical sense. Alexander's previous dream of the family picnic on the beach continues. Soon, the sky opens up on the revelers and they all take cover, except for Alexander, who is looking for Anna, who has disappeared. He finds her alone by the sea. Back to reality, Alexander's mother collapses in his arms and he puts her back to bed. What follows is a touching soliloquy on the unfairness of life and Alexander's regrets.

Alexander is walking alone in the night when the Albanian boy joins him and says that he is leaving tonight on a boat, heading for some unnamed destination. "Stay with me," pleads Alexander, "the boat does not leave for two more hours." They board a bus. Three men on bicycles, clad in yellow oilskins, drive by. They are alone until the next stop, "Disembodied," where there is a street demonstration in progress, and a man with a red flag, obviously a participant, gets on board at the same time as a young couple who are arguing. The three bicyclists in yellow oilskins are riding alongside the bus. At the next stop, the couple leaves, and three musicians board the bus and begin to play. They get off the bus at the next stop, "Conservatory," where the poet, Solomos, gets on. He sits across from Alexander and the boy, and recites his unfinished poem, "Easter Sunday." When Solomos gets to the unfinished last line of his poem, "Sweet is the life...and,..." he repeats these first few words, unable to complete the line. As he leaves the bus, Alexander asks, "Tomorrow, how long does it last?"

Alexander and the boy get off the bus, as the three yellow-clad men ride pass them by again. Alexander drives the Albanian boy to the dock, where the boy joins his many friends into a tractor-trailer which motors off and disappears into the departing boat.

Alexander drives away in his car. He stops in the middle of the avenue, at a red light. The light changes, but Alexander's car does not move. The camera shows him immobile, lifeless at the wheel. The traffic goes around him, leaving Alexander's car standing alone in the middle of the avenue. The light turns red again. Suddenly, the car accelerates through the light, at great speed, down the avenue. The next scene shows Alexander as he enters his old, empty house by the sea. In a voice-over, Anna reads the letter she is writing to Alexander, about her special day, Katerina's birth day. Alexander walks through the house, to the back and to the beach, where his family is standing by the shore, singing. Anna approaches him, and they dance. Soon the whole group dances, then fades away, leaving the couple alone. Alexander makes future plans, and says to Anna, "One day, I had asked you, how long does tomorrow last?" Anna answers, "An eternity and a day." She leaves, and Alexander is left alone, facing the sea, speaking Greek words aloud: korphoula mou (my little flower), xenitis (exile), and argathini (very late in the night).

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