There is a huge difference between my reactions to Eternity and a Day in my early 60s and now at 84. In 1998 Central Station was also released . At the time I focused my attentionon the representation of old women in feature films.
Out of interest I also viewed Eternity and A Day (EAAD) because it featured the relationship of an old man and a child and dismissed it as irrelevant to my research.
In my 60s Death was remote, the past was safely tucked away in an effort to deal with retirement and negotiating my identity as an ‘old woman’. Nowadays the past and death are familiar visitors. I viewed EAAD again and was shocked by its impact on me. The gender of the protagonist Alexander did not seem relevant since the poetic and sometimes intriguing treatment of his memories and of his coming to terms with death touched me deeply. Although I am not terminally ill, at 84 my brain often revisits the past in a sort of life review exercise and memories surface unexpectedly.
The structure of the film is so complex that it is only after hours of trying to find a way of writing about it in its entirety that I realised that I was unable to express in words a work that is essentially a beautiful film poem about ageing and death.
The travelling and panning shots, the stills, the long takes (average shot length (around 2mins), the importance of buildings, the contrasts between the sea views and the noisy cars in dark streets, the sometimes imperceptible editing between different time frames, the colours, the subtle acting, the music and the poetic script and language all contribute to the impact of the film.
The following is a very personal account of my thoughts, feelings and reactions to Eternity and a Day.
The title sequences: It took me sometime to realise that the in the only flashback in the film expresses the subject of the film: memories emerging into consciousness…. It comes out of the water every once in a while just for a moment when the morning star is home sick for the earth and stops to look. to everything stops and TIME stops……
Flash backs and memories:
My first surprise was Alexander’s first memory triggered by the reading of a letter from his deceased wife Anna by his daughter. The memory was of a visit of the extended family on the birth of his daughter. While the titles flashback sequence showed Alexander as a child, I perceived him in the following memories as the observer of past events.
Importance of the environment
I lived by the sea and left the family house in my 20s. I was touched by the presence of the sea throughout the film. The sea as a site of pleasure but also dangerous and a symbol of death. The sea as nature in contrast with the dark streets with traffic.
The family house and its loss also struck an emotional chord in me.
It is the image of human shapes hanging on the border wire that gave me a clue of how to interpret the film. The shapes were definitely not human and yet expressed poignantly the tragedy of refugees. This image made me reluctant to interpret the scenes featuring the 8 years old refugee boy with no name and Alexander’s trip to the border as a realist description. It is when I read the scenes featuring the child not only as a comment on the exploitation of refugee children but also as a device to expose Alexander examining the last hours of his life that I could make sense of certain scenes. (However I am still pondering on the image of the three cyclists dressed in yellow at the end of the film)
I feel I am not qualified to dwell on the sequences that involve Alexander’s identity as a troubled poet considering his creativity and his death, the poet as an exile. I just do not understand the meaning of the buying of words. In this piece I would like to look how Alexander’s relationships are expressed.
Alexander and his deceased father. Their relationship is only commented on by his mother who said that they were not very close. You always doubted him and that hurt him.
Alexander and his carer: It is to his kind carer that he declares that he is going to die. She offers her help and support but he refuses. His visit to her village is surreal. The wedding ceremony involving the whole village and the bride and groom dance is interrupted. Alexander asks his carer to look after his dog. The ceremony stops and starts again. For me these sequences show interest in the Greek traditions but also the way the needs of the boss prevail over those of the employed.
Alexander and his daughter: The relationship is very interesting. The first memory sequence occurs when his daughter reads aloud her mother’s letter. This memory is full of the joy of the baby’s birth. The extended family visit and view the baby in a cradle on the beach and socialise. But in real time there is a cold contact with the daughter and son-in-law who refuse to look after the dog and have sold the house that is due to be demolished. He does not divulge that he is dying.
Alexander and Anna his wife:
The self absorption of the poet and distance from his wife are well represented. Anna: All you think about is your book… I am trying to kidnap you between two books… You live your own life beside us beside your daughter and me but not with us… I know one day you’ll leave. On the beach during a party when he leaves her to climb the cliff and relive his childhood she calls him traitor twice.
This relationship is replayed when a young student couple board the bus. This time Alexander is the neutral observer
MAN:… Maria must you walk away when I’m talking to you. I don’t see why you have to be angry. We need new artistic forms Maria …We need new forms of expression and if we can’t have them better to have nothing.… She gets up… Why do you walk away when I am talking to you? She drops the the bouquet of flowers she was holding and walks away. He runs after her off the bus.
His relationship with his mother reads so true and touching. Alexander as a child in the title sequences hears her laughing when in the early morning he escapes to go swimming with his friends.
Alexander and his mother :
Later she looks after the new born baby, or she is waiting for him at the beach party. On a boat-trip she confides to her son about dreaming of her husband. She comments that Alexander and his father did not get on.
The visit of Alexander to his mother at the hospital to say goodbye is interrupted by a memory. She is sitting vacant on the side of the bed, gets to the window and drawing the curtain calls for Alexander to come back for his meal. He recalls the beach party when he sheltered her running for cover in the wind and the rain.
She comes back to the bed … the knives and forks the silver ones, my dowry, where have you put them. She nearly falls and Alexander catches her and helps her back onto the bed : yesterday they were still here. He sits back on the chair and looks at her. …Why mother Why didn’t anything work out the way we expected? Why Why must we rot helplessly torn between pain and desire Why have I lived my life in exile. Why have I felt at home only in those rare moments when granted the grace to speak my language my own language When I could still recover lost words or retrieve forgotten words from the silence. Why is it that only then could I hear the sound of my footsteps echoing in my house again why?. He kisses her on the forehead. Tell me mother. Turns the light off. He walks to the door in the dark: … Tell me mother ? why didn’t we know how to love?
Goodbye to the boy: In the next sequence the boy comes to say goodbye and the two hug and declare their mutual fear. I see this as Alexander saying goodbye to his introspections. The next sequence is the highly praised bus sequence. Here we see a relaxed smiling Alexander observing the passengers – and himself- in a detached manner: the political activist, the student couple, the musicians, the poet. The poet declares life is sweet.
The last sequence of the film is of Alexander visiting his house. The lobby is strewn with broken stones. The doors are shut. A long pan from the door to the window with a view of the flat next door and back again is followed by what I would describe as neither a flashback nor a memory but a fantasy, a declaration of love to Anna.
I am writing to you by the sea again and again I write to you I talk to you.
When you happen to recall this day remember …remember that I looked at it as if I were all eyes caressed it as if I were all hands I stand here and wait for you trembling. Give me this day.
The front doors open to reveal a baby in a pram watched by grandmother, people in white are singing. Anna comes towards him. He walks towards her:… Anna, shall we dance? I know you don’t like me to but today is my day. They dance in close loving contact and kiss … Anna I’m not going to the hospital I’m not going … to the hospital Anna I’m not going… I’d like to make plans for tomorrow ………
Anna walks backwards towards the sea.
Whats tomorrow Anna. I asked you once: how long does tomorrow lasts and you said : Eternity and a day.
She disappears. He puts his hand over his heart. …My passage over to the other side tonight. With words I brought you back again and you are here. And all is true and all is waiting …. my little flower ….
He walks into the sea.