Review: Eternity and a Day

Friends member Rob Baker reviews Eternity and a Day which screened recently as part of a small season of films in conjunction with Amnesty International Leeds.

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After Arrival (2016) we have another film playing with concepts of time. Eternity and a Day (1998) is the second of three screenings at the Picture House organised by the local Amnesty group’s Refugee and Asylum Seeker Sub-Group.

Alexander (Bruno Ganz) is an aging Greek poet who believes he is facing his last day on earth. An unnamed medical intervention is planned for the next day, and he does not expect to recover – we almost get an impression of voluntary euthanasia. He starts the day trying to find a home for the dog he knows he must leave behind.

Alexander time-shifts through the day, re-living encounters with his parents (only his ailing mother now survives), his young wife (deceased), and his daughter both as a child and grown up (bringing us to current time).  With the exception of a couple of scenes showing him as a child, playing on the beach with other children, with his Mother off-screen calling him to come in for dinner, Alexander appears in most of these scenes as his current late middle-aged self. We are even taken back to the mid 19th century with the appearance aboard a Thessaloniki night-bus of a long dead poet, whose key unfinished work  Alexander  has set himself the task of finishing, though of course he hasn’t – “Nothing is finished” he laments.

Powerful symbols of “passing on” intrude on the scene, with buses and ships, even a trio of cyclists in yellow oilskins, hoving into view behind the protagonists. The constant leitmotif of the film is the Aegean shoreline where nearly all the family encounters of the past and present play out. The sea, the final frontier for us all to cross, sparkles in the sunshine.

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