The Beekeeper (O Melissokomos)

Released: 1986
Genre: Drama
Director: Theo Angelopoulos
Credited writers: Theo Angelopoulos, Tonino Guerra, Thanasis Valtinos
Runtime: 122' (Greek cut 140')
Country: Greece/Italy/France
Language: Greek
Music: Eleni Karaindrou
Awards: Best original screenplay, Cannes 1986
MPAA rating: unrated (consider it at least R)

Cast: Marcello Mastroianni (Spyros, the beekeeper), Nadia Mourouzi (the hitch-hiker), Serge Reggiani (the sick man)

In a few words: A world-weary man travelling to his home town picks up an enigmatic young hitch-hiker.

At his daughter's wedding the schoolteacher Spyros realises that his incestuous love for her that's burdened him for years will remain unfulfilled or destroy them. He quits his job, leaves his home and his wife, and takes only his truck with some bees on a journey across the country to resume the trade of his ancestors as a beekeeper in his childhood home. Just like the bees return to the hive, the aging Spyros returns to the place he came from.

On his way through the wintry scenery he picks up a young woman who doesn't seem to be going anywhere in particular. Promiscuous and living for the day she has no more a view of the future than Spyros. One lives only in the past, the other exists solely in and for the present. Superficial and ephemeral like a butterfly, she is incapable of giving him what he needs or representing anything more tangible than fleeting, impersonal sexuality. Hopelessness and aimlessness together make their way towards a stark but poetic finale. Two masterless ships pass in the night. One of them sinks.

The film, despite its partially foreign cast, is entirely in Greek, as Angelopoulos always insisted it had to be. Language though ends up being a barrier neither for the actors nor the audience because Angelopoulos' right-hand man, cinematographer Giorgos Arvanitis, is a master of capturing expressions and his sweeping, epic takes of people and landscapes dominate the film. Not for the first time, here's an Angelopoulos film that would lose little if not a word were spoken. Mastroianni, who would work with Angelopoulos again in The Suspended Step of the Stork five years later, is stunning in the role of Spyros, and the unglamorous Mourouzi earns her pedigree as a dramatic actor.

Theo Angelopoulos had made himself a name as one of the most political directors, even by the standards of European modernist cinema. By the mid-1980s though the political situation in his native Greece had stabilised after thirty years of turbulence and repression. The junta had fallen in 1974 and, while it shadow was still there, the likelihood of anything like it happening again had become as remote as in any western republic. The Beekeeper is the first Angelopoulos film in which politics are not a key element.

The focus of society and history shifted towards the individual and the director followed and recorded it. It could be a documentary on the dark, dark midnight of the soul. In a way Spyros resembles the many homesick Greeks who returned from decades of living abroad to find how little some things had changed, but there's also the abandoned countryside of Greece in winter, devoid of the youth and hope that's fled to the cities. Although the emotions and people in the film are timeless, Angelopoulos surreptitiously captures and adds a latent element of social history there.

The Beekeeper takes the bleak emptiness and uncertainty that characterises the director's political work and transfers it to a purely individual level without missing a bit of its vastness, replacing political turmoil with one man's alienation from life. This is a sad, sad, magnificent film.