Meteora is a rugged landscape of unfathomable beauty in the Greek mainland. Several immense monoliths appear to be vying with one another in a futile race towards the sky. The word meteora in Greek translates to lifted up or in the air which pretty much describes the impressions of the first-time visitors when they encounter the vast rocks. This landscape was the refugee of Christian monks who in the Byzantine times fled away here to escape from the oppression of the Ottoman rule. Stathopoulos is masterfully setting up his plot around this historical and geographical landscape.
Stathopoulos has achieved to bind the awe inspiring geography with the psychological landscapes of his passion stricken characters. Surprisingly, there are few scenes in which we see the 2 characters together. Instead, the film is constructed around the expectation of those rare encounters and the speculation about psychological inner states of the main characters. The director is to a great extent leaving it up to the audience to reconstruct the personal stories of Greek monk and the Russian nun. Through the film we don't learn anythings about how their lives winded up in this love story. Stathopoulos is using photography, music and animation to veer the experience of the audience allowing the landscape to have a meditative impact on the reconstruction of the plot .
The director has been studying carefully the light and the photography of the landscape. The results is an awe inspiring experience as one soon feels lost floating totally immersed into the landscape. Stathopoulos achieves that by way of shooting from a limited number of angles under different light conditions.Through the film one can sense that the camera is slightly out of focus an effect which is spreading the attention to entire picture rather that focusing on part of the canvas. One could claim that light is to a great part the language of the film as well as the language in which the lovers communicate their emotions. Furthermore, the director is supplementing the visual experience with the dire sounds of the monastic discipline as well as with religious music from the Byzantine and Russian traditions.
A clever devise used in the film is animating Byzantine icones. The result is brilliant since animation proves to be a great mean to illustrate the imaginary and the religious anguish that the 2 characters experience. Besides from being very pleasing aesthetically, the narrative of the animated parts gives us a hint to the imaginary of the main characters. The depictions of sin and punishment are coming close to literary descriptions taken up from religious texts. In this way, the film is bridging the visual culture of today with the stern visual art of the Christian Orthodox tradition. Animation in tandem with photography and music are guiding the audience through the labyrinth of possible interpretations.
Meteora is a worthy piece of European cinema and a diligent study of the relation between geographical and psychological landscapes. The film has the potential to become a point of reference for this kind of cinema. In his second film, Stathopoulos has made a bold step towards establishing himself as a promising director. Having already shot 2 thematically very different films he has proved both his potential to conceive stories and his skill in directing them.
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