The Travelling Players (O thiassos)

The Travelling Players

Outside, don’t wait; the play is great!

Boy, did I ever put this one off. I mentioned in a recent review that any film that’s over two and a half hours is a little much for me, and I get hesitant to even start the film as a result. Well, you can imagine my trepidation when O Thiassos comes along, at nearly four hours. It didn’t help any that, once I finally started the film, I found that the director, Theo Angelopoulos, seems to be one of the inspirations behind Bela Tarr and his monstrosity Satantango. Tarr apparently saw this film, with all its extremely long takes and slow methodical pacing, and thought to himself, “Wow. I want to do that, but even more so.” Not to whack O Thiassos on the nose too much, but for me, when your film draws a comparison to Satantango, you’re immediately on rough ground with me from the get-go.

The long takes of this film warrant an additional mention, as they are really what the film considers its prime selling point. Angelopoulos claimed that the complete film uses only 80 shots, but I was not going to spend my viewing time counting them. Still, even for a regular-length film, that’s quite an achievement, though (again) like Satantango, that doesn’t mean the film itself is any better off for the restriction. So, besides the long takes, what does O Thiassos have to offer? Well, actually, quite a bit; even more so if you’re interested in Greek history. As much as I bemoan the long takes, I have to admit, Angelopoulos does have quite the cinematic eye. He frames each shot wonderfully, and composes it with perfect movement; the film is almost never uninteresting to look at. As for the film’s plot, it is a practically dark-comic story of a traveling theater troupe attempting to put on a production of a play called Golfo the Shepherdess, and being constantly thwarted by various events, which oftentimes coincide with whatever era of Greek history they are currently in. Naturally, for a film almost four hours long, it spans several decades in the lives of its main players, as they continue to try and put on the play, and are continually interrupted by the world around them. Great concept, with great direction and great cinematography… but it’s just so damn long, and it feels as long as it is, that I am seriously struggling with how to rate this one.

Really, I could go on about O Thiassos; there’s a ton of content to be had here, and a lot that I haven’t mentioned. But, my own self-recollection purposes aside, I’m mostly here to tell you whether or not this is worth a watch. Honestly, I don’t know. There’s more pros than cons with this one, which is largely why I settled on the rating I did, but there’s just one big, huge con that is impossible to ignore. When I was watching this, whenever the shot would change, I would like what I was seeing, but then the shot kept going… and going… and I was constantly reminded of how long this film was going to be. Even near the end of the film, it didn’t get any better, and I found myself checking the clock multiple times, wondering when the film would be over. As much as this film has going for it technically, that’s not exactly a positive selling point when that happens. I don’t know too many people who would be able or willing to sit through this whole thing, but I can’t grade it too far down, just because it is a very well done film, so I compromised and put it in the middle. Make of that what you will.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

Woo, 800 reviews. Not counting the upcoming edition’s add-ons, I’ve got about 300 remaining. Just a little speck of light, but it’s there.

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2 thoughts on “The Travelling Players (O thiassos)

  1. This whole film felt…bloated. I can’t specifically think of things to cut; it just needed to be cut, and a lot. As I recall, there are three stories running around here–the Greek history, the Orestean Trilogy stuff, and the surface story of the players. You should be able to tell those three stories in four hours, but somehow the film manages to not tell any of them adequately.

    In short, it felt not like a film that is long and important (like Lawrence of Arabia), but like a film that people think is important because it’s long, and so must have something to say.

    • I didn’t even get any or the Orestean myth stuff; that was all lost on me. Still, I was impressed enough with the technicals; I have a feeling I’ll better enjoy Angelopoulos’ other list film, Landscape in the Mist, just because it’s shorter.

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