When he was nearly 70, the great Greek director Theo Angelopoulos made the bold decision to embark on a trilogy. This is newsworthy because he's also the least hasty of filmmakers: Most of his films -- 1995's bewitching "Ulysses' Gaze," with Harvey Keitel as an Angelopoulos stand-in, is the best known in America -- can last two and a half hours. And they come sporadically. His previous picture, "Eternity and a Day," was eight years ago, so he could be 85 before his trilogy is finished. But if the spectral first installment, "The Weeping Meadow" (2004) is any indication of what's to come, you should be willing to wait.
Angelopoulos intends the trilogy to summarize the 20th century, from a presumably Hellenistic vantage point. The film begins in 1919 with a band of Greek refugees from Odessa arriving at a silky-looking pool of water. They have fled the Bolsheviks all the way back to a shabby village in their homeland. The film concludes almost three hours later at the end of the Second World War, and the fleeing never lets up. This being an Angelopoulos film, the years pass in the sort of furtive ellipses that can trick you into thinking no time has passed at all.
Angelopoulos is a minimalist. So while the film has a sort of biblical ambition, its details are more intimate. It starts as a bereft homecoming, then blooms into a love story that spans the allotted eras. Few directors can compose shots as magnificently and magically as Angelopoulos. It's like a folkloric Old Testament dream come alive: exodus, flood, fire, death, and grief. Purely from the standpoint of scale, chapter two has its work cut out for it.
Extras: Director interview; booklet with print interview, director essay. (New Yorker, $29.95; available now.)