Tania Palaiologou and 'Landscape in the Mist': It's Theo's hand

Tania Palaiologou and 'Landscape in the Mist': It's Theo's hand
More than thirty years on, Greek actress Tania Palaiologou reflects on filming 'Landscape in the Mist' with legendary filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos.
12 min read
11 August, 2020
Tania Palaiologou starred in Theo Angelopoulos' masterpiece 'Landscape in the Mist'. [Georgios Voutsinas]
In 1988, Theo Angelopoulos, the Greek director, (1935 – 2012) created the film Landscape in the Mist. The work is part of a trilogy that includes Voyage to Cythera (1983) and The Beekeeper (1986).

Angelopoulos regarded those movies as The Trilogy of Silence, putting them in order of their release: The Silence of History, The Silence of Love, and The Silence of God.

In Landscape in the Mist, the director takes us on a journey with two children: Voula (Tania Palaiologou) and Alexandros (Michalis Zeke), siblings who are trying to trace their father, believing he left Greece and now lives in Germany. 

Angelopoulos says: "In all of my movies, there is a character looking for its father. It does not necessarily mean the biological father, but the concept of a father as a sign, meaning, or a symbol for what we dream of. The father here represents what we want and what we believe in. This means that the search for one's father is, in fact, a search for one's individual self-identity in life." 

Thus, the director puts us in a direct confrontation with the idea of looking for the father on all its dimensions, realistic and symbolic. We find ourselves on a journey where the poetic meets the political, the historic and the mythological, which holds within its deep layers Angelopoulos' recurrent questions about borders, and the human pursuit to  outmanoeuvre them in order to reach somewhere, a meaning, or an idea.

We go on a two-hour journey with a "simple story, beautifully told", as the actress Tania Palaiologou put it in an interview with The New Arab talking about the movie, whose cinematography was created by Giorgos Arvanitis, and its soundtrack composed by Eleni Karaindrou.

Tania Palaiologou, in this interview, gives us a closer look at the worlds of this movie, some of its behind-the-scenes moments, the challenges she faced, her experiences and her memories with Angelopoulos. 

You played the role in Landscape in the mist when you were 11 years old, and you have become an actress later on. Was this a decision made after your experience with Angelopoulos?

In fact, the decision I had firstly made when the whole experience was over, was NOT to become an actress. The shooting lasted 5 months in sometimes really difficult conditions, such as late night shootings, or scenes in the snow or rain, and that was really tough for my 11-year-old self.

Some years later though, when I started going to the theatre and flirting with the idea of going to a drama school, I realised I was probably one of the few girls of my age that actually knew that acting is not a dream job, it needs stamina and patience, physical and mental strength. The whole experience of being a part of Landscape in the Mist in such a young age had made me more realistic. I felt stronger, so I went for it. 

Landscape in the Mist was not your only experience with Theo Angelopoulos. We saw you in Ulysses' Gaze (1995). Tell us about your experience with Angelopoulos in general. And what was so special about working with him?

I had the privilege to work with him 3 times, once in 1988 in Landscape in the Mist, then in 1995 in Ulysses' Gaze and finally in 1997 in Eternity and a Day. In the last two movies I was casted as part of the protagonist's family. Theo Angelopoulos used to do that a lot, create a "family" cast with the main characters from his previous movies, and that was amazing for me, made me feel like a part of his actual family. As he grew older he would be more sweet each time.

Creating films and being on set was his great joy, so, though he would easily get tough and highly demanding towards any member of the cast and crew on the set, you could see his tenderness shining through when things would work out at the end.

What was most challenging? Was it easy to communicate any challenges you had to Angelopoulos? And how did he work with you through these challenges?

It was not always easy I dare say. As a child I was very shy and difficult to communicate my hesitation and fear when it came to specific scenes. But he would talk to me a lot, either in hotel lobbies one day before the shooting, or in the actual shooting place, in the back of a car. He would make sure I understand everything and make me a part of his vision.

One thing he did and made me trust him, was that, at the beginning of our relationship he would relate with my emotional world. Something really powerful but weird at the same time, he - such a mature and deep thinking human being and acclaimed creator - would make me feel that he was identifying himself with a shy and inexperienced eleven-year-old girl, that we share the same awe and curiosity for the adventure of life. 

Tania, as a child back then in 1988, how did you perceive the story of the absent father in the story?

As I recall things now, 32 years later, I never focused on that. For it was more the presence of the father I was after. The journey of these two kids was a cry for help, a search for a better world away from an abusing, neglectful mother. So the children created an ideal image of an existing father, not a non-existing one. This is clearly something the viewer of the film does.

I, on the other hand, as Voula, would have to project on the girl’s needs. Voula had to become a mother for Alexandros, she had to protect him, provide for him. At the same time, she still needed to find her father for both of them, a father that would actually take care of them, protect and support them, as any actual parent would do. I would say I mostly perceived the absence of the mother. The father was real, in Germany, and I had to take myself and my brother to him. 

In one scene in the train, we see Voula sleeping next to her little brother Alexandros, and then we hear the voice of Voula reading a letter for the absent father. The letter and the performance were particularly strong, impactful. Have you used a specific technique for the performance? Like "the emotion memory" technique?

Funnily enough, not having enough painful memories as a happily raised young girl, I let myself identify with Voula, as an existing human being that would allow me to share her thoughts and feelings. I remember trying to be touched with imaginary thoughts such as experiencing the death of my beloved grandma, but it would not work. So I would say I created my own "compassion" or "empathy" technique.   

Throughout the film, you hardly leave Alexandros. You seem always attached to each other like one body (Except for the truck scene). So, have you developed a friendship with Alexandros? Do you still see him these days? Is he a good memory for you?

Yes, I do see him, he is not just a memory, he is part of my life now, and we actually came close again when our beloved director passed away. I adore Michalis, we are in touch through internet because he lives and works abroad, but every time he visits Greece, we make sure we will meet and catch up. He is an amazing human being, a beautiful mind; I always look forward to our long discussions. I am very very proud of him and we still call each other brother and sister. 

How did the role of Voula affect Tania, a little girl of 11 years old back then in 1988? Especially since the role of Voula was fully charged with emotions and existential questions.

It was a powerful journey through my emotions, my deepest fears and my greatest hopes. The hope to find a meaning in life, to experience love, to keep the fairy tale alive while overcoming pain and frustration, to make it through the journey. The fear of failure, of abandonment, above all the fear of loss. I would not understand it at the time, but it was an experience that empowered me in many ways. It was like entering adulthood in a child's body through Voula. 

In the film, you are a kind of storyteller as well for Alexandros. You notably tell him about the story of creation (Darkness and Light). What does this story represent in Voula's journey?

It is the story of life; it felt like it represented hope and beauty, created by darkness and chaos. "In the beginning there was chaos" says Voula to Alexandros in the darkness of their room. "And then there came light". Light changes everything; it makes life through all the beautiful creatures it affects. Voula always seeks the light in her journey; it keeps her strong and decisive. Such a beautiful metaphor in Theo Angelopoulos's poetic universe.

In the film, the young actor Orestis discovers a gigantic hand in the sea. Voula gets close and stares at this hand suspended in the air. What can you tell us about this scene?

I guess it took me some years to realise the philosophic and therefore poetic allegory of a vast marble hand that emerges from the sea and points to nowhere. To me as a child, the hand was an enormous replicate of a smaller-scale sample that the sculpture had made for Theo. It was in display in Theo's office and I was always amazed at how accurate it was regarding its original model. It was Theo's hand. I still remember the shape of his nails.

I am always reluctant to say anything about Theo's scenes, they are so open to the viewer's interpretation. But, having seen the movie in various periods of my life since 1988, I now definitely see this scene as the quintessence of the film's part it the trilogy of silence. The silence of God.

Voula has a very complex relationship with Orestis in the film especially after she has lost her trust in the world. A relationship that has many dimensions of feelings of love, fear and hesitation... How do you see this relationship?

Voula falls in love with Orestis as a child that still believes in fairy tales. She is even willing to "give herself to him", which in a way signifies her passing from girlhood to womanhood, she feels like a grown woman that can make her own decisions. After the rape, it is so touching to see that she can still trust someone and let herself fall in love.

Orestis on the other hand does not see her like that, he deeply cares for the children, but his life and personal story have no room for a love story with an eleven-year-old girl. In the final scene, when Voula discovers Orestis flirting with another man, she feels betrayed; she takes Alexandros and leaves Orestis. Orestis goes after her and talks to her so deeply and fatherly. I can still remember the smell of his leather jacket mingled with my tears when shooting the scene. Voula cries for all the broken-hearted, for all the devastated hearts of the world that are being left alone. I still cry my heart out when I see the scene, at the end; we are all such lonely creatures.

Overall, the film is a complex mixture of poetry, art and also politics. How do you read the film today? How many times have you seen it, and when was the last time you watched it?

I must have seen the film around ten times since the first screening. I try not to see it on tv or a pc screen or a tablet, I believe Theo's films belong to big cinema venues. It is an experience one can only fully appreciate in the cinema, alone, between an audience, opposite to a big screen. Every time I see it I realize new dimensions of the film, its reference to the politics and history along with the existential questions that it sets always amazes me, how Theo manages to do that while telling a story of two children in search of their father. The 80s was a terrific era. So many things started off then.

Last time I show it it was two years ago in a cinema with my then nine-year-old son and his best friend. I saw it through the eyes of the kids and it suddenly became a road movie. Towards the end of the movie, when the children get into a boat and try to pass a river, when a shotgun is heard, my son reacted so spontaneously, he literally jumped off his chair. He had gotten into it, he felt compassion for the children and that made me so happy and relieved, I would expect him to be bored. It is an amazing film of a simple story, beautifully told. Can't wait to see it again and again and discover more dimensions. 

Please take a look at this very scene. A scene composed of a horse dying in the foreground, Voula and Alexandros in the middle ground, and a wedding in the background. Can you comment?

Once again, the children come across the cruelty of real life. It is a cold but silent night; the silence is so loud after the snow. The sound of the dying horse, his last breaths literally enter the children’s bodies, they are closer to death than ever, and all that is so louder when the celebrating wedding group bursts out in the background.

We all stand in awe before death. We all feel like a little child crying in the middle of a cold and dark road, while life violently and inevitably goes on.

What about the final scene of the film, which is composed of a tree in the mist, with Voula and Alexandros running towards the tree and hugging it. How do you analyze this scene?

The last time I saw it I was so optimist[ic], if felt like the children had found their father. I wish I could analyse, I honestly cannot. Every time it is a different feeling, a different thought. Up to now, I can only surrender to the beauty of the scene; it is as if Theo Angelopoulos, Giorgos Arvanitis and Eleni Karaindrou created a three-dimensional painting there. It moves me deeply.

In the film, we saw Voula in her journey crossing many borders, changing stations and riding different trains. She walked many streets. At the end, she crosses a river thinking it will get her to Germany.

Many of Theo's films are centered around crossing borders. How did the borders theme read the reality in Greece and Balkans back then? What changed today?

Only a few years later, in 1991, when the Hodja regime opened the borders, Greece had a vast immigrant wave from neighbor Albania. Soon the Balkans became a war scene. Borders were rearranged. Three decades later, the refugee crisis is number one in all political agendas all around the world. Europe is turning fascist.

Theo was ahead of his time, as all great political minds are. "The Suspended step of the Stork", his next movie, seems like it was shot yesterday. It seems like everything changed, but a quick glimpse in history tells us things do not change. People are greedy, we always want more; we will always suffer war and the consequence of our willingness to forget that we are mortal. We seem to forget we are all immigrants.  

The music plays a major part in Landscape of the Mist. Eleni Karaindrou has worked closely with Theo Angelopoulos for his last eight films. What do you perceive from the music in Theo Angelopoulos' films?

It is the soundtrack of my dreams.

Fawzi Bakeer is a staff journalist for The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed. This interview is an edited translation from that site.