Ulysses' Gaze ends with his soliloquy of grief. The character's despair, even though he is now in sole possession of the reels, suggests that his real interest was never the old film footage. How it ties in to his own quest for past memories is uncertain. In fact, there is an air of self-delusion and disingenuity in his grief.
As a performer, Harvey Keitel seems to be dreamily floating throughout much of the film. This approach mostly works, save for a few much too florid speeches. Erland Josephson seems a bit hyperactive as the historian, while Maia Morgenstern gives perhaps the film's finest performance – or rather, performances – even if some of the roles seem a bit too far out.
Ulysses' Gaze also offers a magnificently effective score by Eleni Karaindrou, especially with great viola passages by Kim Kashkashian, which seem almost an organic part of Angelopoulos' visuals. (The scores of Angelopoulos' films are perhaps the only ones equal to those of the great Werner Herzog's films.)
As for Ulysses' Gaze chief flaws, as mentioned above those are to be found in the screenplay. Though penned by Angelopoulos, Giorgio Silvagni, Petros Markaris, and longtime Fellini and Angelopoulos collaborator Tonino Guerra, Ulysses' Gaze goes on a good 40 or so minutes too long. Some trimming of more pedestrian scenes by editor Yannis Tsitsopoulos and some neat Yasujiro Ozu-like elisions (which Angelopoulos makes expert use of in other films), and Ulysses' Gaze would have been a great film – even if just shy of a masterpiece due to bits of overacting and lavender-tinged soliloquies (e.g., "If I should but stretch out my hand I will touch you and time will be whole again," Keitel's character says at one point).
Ulysses' Gaze received the Jury's Grand Prix (that's the runner-up prize) and the International Federation of Film Journalists' Award (tied with Ken Loach's Land and Freedom) at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, but it has taken a beating from some critics. In this country, the most virulent review came from none other than that noted lover of Spielbergian tripe, Roger Ebert.
Even so, would that more people had that quality which Angelopoulos so clearly owns. For then, even flawed but excellent films like Ulysses' Gaze would get their proper due.
© Dan Schneider
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of Mr. Schneider, and they may not reflect the views of Alt Film Guide. A version of this Ulysses' Gaze review was initially posted in February 2008.