A history lesson that seems to unfold at the speed of history, The Weeping Meadow recalls a few eventful decades in the history of modern Greece as seen through the eyes of two people who bore the brunt of its blows. Opening in 1919, Meadow frames a scene of ethnic Greeks returning to their homeland as they flee the changes that have swept Odessa in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution. In the center of the frame are a boy and a girl holding hands. They're raised together, but after growing up to be played by stars Alexandra Aidini and Nikos Poursadinis, they fall in love, and unbeknownst to others, have a set of twins out of wedlock. Later, Poursadinis' dad Vassilis Kolovos decides to marry Aidini, never minding that she's virtually his adoptive daughter. She flees to Poursadinis instead.
The setup is pure Greek tragedy by design, and though director Theo Angelopoulos consciously echoes the myths of Oedipus and, later, Odysseus, the echoes of another movie are even stronger. This is essentially the Greek take on Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900, which retold the early part of Italy's 20th century by way of a few characters' brushes with it. Meadow begins brilliantly, with Angelopoulos' unmistakable style—all scene-length takes, tracking shots, meaningful zooms, and frame-ready tableaux vivants—applied to a gripping melodrama. The beauty keeps on coming, but Angelopoulos can't sustain the energy past the halfway point, as the deliberate pacing turns trying, then funereal, and the story's thinness becomes apparent. In one scene, two brothers fighting on opposite ends of the Greek Civil War meet wearing opposing uniforms. One says, "The war's changed us." Well, duh.
Angelopoulos' masterful command of energy demands to be seen, but it's better evidenced in films like Ulysses' Gaze than here, where the imagery eventually becomes the only reason to keep watching. This is the first of an announced trilogy, but it already feels as long as the 20th century itself.