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Running for four hours, The Travelling Players traces the history of Greece from 1936 to 1952. The film begins and ends during an election campaign in 1952. A small group of strolling players traverses the countryside, performing their play, 'Golfo the Shepherdess'. Everywhere they go, they set up their back-cloth, on which straggly sheep graze by a stream, and they attempt to carry through a performance of their nineteenth century pastorale. Sudden time-shifts within single sequences link past and present. One performance is interrupted by fascists in order to kidnap one of the actors; another time, two cast members are shot on stage.
The director, Theo Angelopolous, who previously made The Reconstruction and Days of 36, uses set-pieces, songs, monologues to camera, numerous outside location episodes, and long, formal camera movements to convey a complex perspective on history. The interpretation of twentieth century history is carried through the players' performance of their play in different settings, as well as through the rivalries and tensions within the small group, which lead to an enactment of the Electra-Orestes tragedy.
Within performances, the past breaks into the present. The Italian invasion of 1940 is suddenly announced from the stage; the actors meet a patrol of British troops; they are put in front of a firing squad; a fascist soldier attempts to rape one of the actresses. But the play goes on, and the film completes a long and searching presentation of the immediate past.
'Angelopolous has hit upon an infallibly effective format, and his ramshackle company is both a device and a focus. But even at its most flamboyant - and there are set pieces in which the horsemen ride like Jancso's - the film works through apprehension and darkness, the sense of a country stunned by historical process.'
Penelope Houston, Sight and Sound
'Angelopolous... must not be considered among the most important new directors in the world, a film-maker with the heroic stature and strength of a Visconti.'
Ken Wlaschin, Films and Filming
A masterpiece of modern cinema, a film reverberating with metaphor and meaning.
David Wilson, Sight and Sound
International Critics Award, Cannes 1975. Best Picture, Thessalonika 1975