The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
What is Time? Grandfather says it is a boy playing jacks on the beach. — the voice of Alexandre as a child, now coming back to him.
It is routinely claimed that Roberto Benigni won the 1998 Palme d’Or for Life Is Beautiful. That year, in fact, the world’s most prestigious film prize was unanimously awarded to Theodoros Angelopoulos for Eternity and a Day, the loveliest Greek film in creation.
Writer, widower Alexandre, convinced he is about to die, is full of aching memories of childhood and of Anna, his wife, while family members cannot quite fit what may be his last hours into their schedule. He therefore befriends an eight-year-old street child, an illegal immigrant from Albania whom he rescues from being kidnapped and sold. One is an exile; the other is about to be.
One leg of the pair’s odyssey is across the border to the boy’s village, razed by war and populated, in a ghostly long shot, by erect, unmoving male bodies. In the eerie fog and snow, are these prisoners corpses? The child has lied; no grandmother awaits him. Alexandre takes the boy back to Greece, where the white of a bride’s gown, in contrast to dingy yellow buildings and street, electrifies a wedding procession.
Derivative of Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957), the film has the pair walk through a scene from the past that Alexandre tells the boy about. Before Alexandre visits his ancient, bedridden mother, they find Selim, the child’s friend, dead in the harbor. The boy visits Selim in the morgue and burns his clothes underneath a building under construction, with other refugee children in attendance. It is a ceremonial farewell to friend and homeland—an acceptance of exile.
A passenger appropriates a bouquet of flowers left on a bus.
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