Editor: Chrysa Maginopoulou
Translator: Janette Skembri
English Language and Literature Graduate
Stelios Charalambopoulos attempted, with the aid of fantasy, to find a link between the lives and the work of two great poets of the 20th century. Alexandrine Constantine Cavafy and Fernando Pessoa from Lisbon meet in a cinematic fairytale. Poetry, as well as the lives of the two poets, unfold just like two threads from the same ball of yarn. The director pictured this dreamy meeting on the Italian ocean liner Saturnia on the 21st of October 1929.
The ocean liner begins its journey from Trieste towards America, collecting emigrants from the Mediterranean ports. A young Greek boarding in Patras will become a witness of an unexpected encounter: one night, on this boat carrying the dreams of α New World, a dreamy yet also true encounter will take place between two of the greatest poets of the last century.
Could they have travelled together? Could they have met on deck, accidentally? They could have said much as the obsession of both with history was great. Perhaps they were excited because of their encounter, though they could have fought only after a minute, if one considers the difficulty of their character.
The film therefore begins with the confession of a passenger from the ocean liner, Vasilis Kapopoulos, who at an advanced age leaves a blot of his life in front of his family’s camera and focuses on his blessed but also accidental presence in the encounter of two great educated men, the Greek Cavafy and the Portuguese Pessoa.
With their encounter as an expedient, the narration becomes interesting. The two poets are inspired often and thickly by the endless circles of the sea’s horizon that surrounds them. The dawn of the 20th century offers the occasion for the discovery of groundbreaking theories, radical ideas and as for transportation, new worlds. This New World, which comes from the West and charms with its virgin geography, ignites both spiritual protagonists.
What do Cavafy and Pessoa have in common in order to inspire this encounter?
On the 29th of April 1863, Constantine Cavafy is born in Alexandria. This city will feed and foster the work of the great poet. Twenty five years later, on the 13th of June 1888 (on the name-day of Saint Anthony, protector of Lisbon) Fernando Pessoa is born. His hometown Lisbon will enter the world of global poetry and will become a symbolic city thanks to him.
The looks of Pessoa had many similarities to that of the Alexandrine: medium height, suit and tie, hat and myopic glasses. He drank and smoked a lot. Moreover, his sexuality was considered from ‘pure’ to having homosexual tendencies.
Another point that strongly links the two poets is death, the death of their big family. They both lose their father at a young age, Cavafy’s nine brothers and Pessoa’s seven brothers follow consecutively though the climax that is thought to be the death of their beloved mother.
One could not omit referring to the themes and characteristics which are common in both their poetry: the sense of pulchritude, the love for truth and loneliness, the absence of laughter, the role of destiny, as well as their interest in the ancient Greeks. Even masks and veneers were a main technique in their creations.
Until now, 72 ghost-writers of Pessoa have been discovered, “a trunk full of people”, as Antonio Tabucchi puts it. All of them with their own style, their own biography, they sign poems, articles, fragmentary texts. Amongst them the most complete are –after Caeiro-, Ricardo Reis, Alvaro de Campos, Alexander Search, Bernando Soares, Antonio Mora and of course Fernando Pessoa, who is viewed in the work of these ghost-writers as a simple person of this virtual community, which he himself had created. Cavafy did not have multiple selves as Pessoa, but often took on many historical veneers, such as Caesarion or Emilianos Monae, (sucked into their era).
There is, however, a major difference between them. Cavafy did not write much, only 154 official poems, whereas in the famous trunk of Pessoa thousands of pages were found; more than 27.000 pages, parts of which have not been yet read.
The two of them never travelled much. Pessoa never left Lisbon even for a day after turning 17 and Cavafy went on very few trips throughout his adult life. Acknowledging that Alexandria and Lisbon were representing the shady grandeur of a glorious past, they are led on a journey to America. As the director claims ‘The whole work of these poets is a dive into History, an excuse to talk about the past in a very modern manner. When they decide to go to a place that has no history, their trip is cancelled. The financial crash of ’29 – something topical today, even though the film was made before the crisis broke out- shows that the New World that evangelized prosperity stands on paper legs and so the two poets never got there. Pessoa and Cavafy grasped how the social changes of their time had something still-born to them, but not human in any way, something that went against their view of humanity and Europe.
Two poets that did not come in contact, but walked on parallel streets in their work and their life. Two voices that never met, but have obvious similarities that impress, create awe and puzzle us. A pleasant documentary that walks the tight rope, between myth and reality. Taking into account the lies told in Art anyway, even of Pessoa for his created ghost-writers, the ‘lie’ of the director is not convicted and can be characterized as ‘poetic license’.
Cavafy K., Pessoa F. (2009) The extraordinary members of a secret cast. Metaixmio
Papadima, M. (2009). “K.P. Cavafy – F. Pessoa: the chronicles of a myth”. Metaixmio