The Dust Of Time

The Dust Of Time


Reviewed by: Adam Micklethwaite

An epic art-house drama spanning more than half of the 20th century, The Dust of Time is an intriguing attempt to weave the life of one family into the wider socio-political context of the modern era. At times the film is engrossing, poetic and visually stimulating, but ultimately the director’s self-indulgence prevents it from achieving its potential, as plot and character become subordinate to postmodern artistic aesthetic.

The complex plot revolves around a film director named A (Willem Dafoe) who is in Rome shooting a film about his parents, when his adolescent daughter mysteriously goes missing in Berlin. Angelopoulos weaves together an intricate (and often confusing) narrative, which fuses past and present, fiction and reality, reliving the epic journey of A’s parents alongside the present day narrative of his missing daughter. We travel across three continents, incorporating an impressive array of locations, from Rome to Berlin, Taskhkent, Siberia and even the United States.

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Some stunning cinematography and the visual poetry of its images – note particularly the silent crowd in a Tashkent square dispersing after the pronouncement of Stalin’s death or Dafoe’s character standing amongst the debris of ruined televisions back in present day Rome – does little to alter the fact that Angelopoulos seems relatively unconcerned with either narrative or character.

Every time the viewer is drawn in with the promise of a revelation concerning the characters’ histories or an insight into their lives which might imbue them with greater psychological depth, the director immediately distances himself by switching arbitrarily to another narrative. As a result we have insufficient frame of reference for the characters’ motivations and their actions are difficult to empathise with. This is particularly true of the storyline involving A’s missing daughter, who is such an underdeveloped character that I had difficulty investing emotionally in her character or indeed in understanding what the director felt that she brought to the story.

I really wanted to enjoy this film as it had the potential to be something very special, but ultimately this promise is never realised. It’s a real shame that the director doesn’t show enough interest in his own story or characters to make them anything more than sketches and surfaces - and he can hardly expect his audience to show more interest than he does. With the final cut coming in at an epic 125 minutes, The Dust Of Time needs to formulate a much stronger bond between audience and character to maintain our interest in the storyline. This feels much more an exercise in postmodernism than a piece of narrative cinema, which seems to negate the point of setting it within such an important historical context.

Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2009
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A film director's past and present blend when, while shooting a film about his parents, his teenage daughter goes missing.

Director: Theodoros Angelopoulos

Writer: Theodoros Angelopoulos, Tonino Guerra, Petros Markaris

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Bruno Ganz, Irene Jacob, Michel Piccoli, Christiane Paul, Reni Pittaki, Kostas Apostolidis, Alexandros Mylonas, Tiziana Pfiffner

Year: 2008

Runtime: 125 minutes

Country: Greece, Italy, Germany, France, Russia


BIFF 2009

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