ATHENS, Greece – He was known for his slow and dream-like directing style and had enough stamina at 76 to be working on his latest movie.
But award-winning Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos was killed in a road accident Tuesday after being hit by a motorcycle while walking across a road close to a movie set near Athens’ main port of Piraeus.
The driver, who was also injured and hospitalized, was later identified as an off-duty police officer.
The accident occurred while Angelopoulos was working on his upcoming movie “The Other Sea.”
Angelopoulos had won numerous awards for his movies, mostly at European film festivals, during a career that spanned more than 40 years.
In 1995, he won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for “Ulysses’ Gaze,” starring American actor Harvey Keitel. Three years later, he won the main prize at the festival, the Palme d’Or, for “Eternity and a Day,” starring Swiss actor Bruno Ganz.
“The atmosphere, symbolism and historical context of his cinematic storytelling went beyond the art form that he worked in and inspired young filmmakers,” Greek President Karolos Papoulias said Wednesday. “(This) occurred at a time when he was extremely creative and the country was in need of his insight, making his absence all the more painful.”
Survived by his wife Phoebe and three daughters, Angelopoulos is to be buried Friday at Athens’ First Cemetery.
Greece’s state Ambulance Service, meanwhile, has ordered an inquiry into reports that paramedics arrived at the scene of the accident 45 minutes after they were called.
Born in Athens in 1935, Angelopoulos lived through the Nazi occupation of Greece during World War II and the ensuing 1946-49 Greek civil war — recurring themes in his early films.
He studied law at Athens University, but eventually lost interest and moved to France where he studied film at the Institute of Advanced Cinematographic Studies in Paris.
After returning to Greece, he worked as a film critic for a small, left-wing newspaper and started to make films during Greece’s 1967-74 dictatorship.
Described as mild-mannered but uncompromising, Angelopoulos’ often sad and slow-moving films mostly dealt with issues from Greece’s turbulent recent history: war, exile, immigration and political division.
It was not until 1984 with “Voyage to Kythera” that his scripts were written in collaboration with others.
Angelopoulos attracted mostly art-house audiences, using established actors including Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau in two of his most widely acclaimed films, “The Bee Keeper” and “The Suspended Stride of the Stalk.”
His bleak landscapes, slow editing pace and long spells without any dialogue meant his movies did not always please filmgoers or critics.
American film critic Roger Ebert wrote of “Ulysses’ Gaze”: “There is a temptation to give ‘Ulysses’ Gaze’ the benefit of the doubt: To praise it for its vision, its daring, its courage, its great length. But I would not be able to look you in the eye if you went to see it, because how could I deny that it is a numbing bore?”
In a rare television interview last year, Angelopoulos said his next film was to be about Greece’s major financial crisis. He publicly called on rival political parties to work together to try and ease the hardships facing many Greeks.
“I remain a leftist in total confusion,” he told state-run NET television.
Several months later, the country’s two main rival political parties agreed to form a coalition government to tackle Greece’s enormous debt problems.
“This is an emergency situation. We must realize this. So we must all examine what can be done — the left and right. This is my plea,” he said in the interview. “I am afraid of what tomorrow will bring.”