Greek film director Theo Angelopoulos whose long, meditative films won him a clutch of top international awards including the Palme d’Or at Cannes, has died aged 76 after a road accident on location.
Angelopoulos succumbed to a brain hemorrhage at a hospital near the port city of Piraeus outside Athens late Tuesday after he was hit by a motorcycle while crossing a street during filming, a hospital official said.
The director, a pioneer of the "new Greek cinema" of the 1970s, had been shooting his latest film "The Other Sea," which dealt with the financial and political crisis that has rocked his home country and Europe.
Prime Minister Lucas Papademos voiced "deep sorrow" at the death of the director "who provided testimony of the drama of Greece after the civil war and contributed to a deeper understanding of our contemporary history."
"The country loses one of its greatest creators at a difficult time."
Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos paid tribute to one "of the most important creators of the seventh art and an ambassador for Greek culture," saying: "In his case, the term ‘irreplaceable’ takes on its full meaning."
A director of moody arthouse movies characterized by long slow shots and atmospheric, sometimes dreamlike sequences, Angelopoulos has earned praise from industry peers including US director Martin Scorsese.
His movie "Ulysses’ Gaze," set in the Balkans and starring Harvey Keitel, won the Grand Jury Prize and the International Critics’ Prize at Cannes and was named European Film of the Year by the critics in 1995.
This success was followed by the Palme d’Or for "Eternity and a Day" with Swiss actor Bruno Ganz in 1998.
"Angelopoulos can be counted as one of the few filmmakers in cinema’s first 100 years who compel us to redefine what we feel cinema is and can be," screenwriter and cinema author Andrew Horton wrote.
The Greece he depicted in his four-decade career is far from the sun-drenched country of tourist brochures: instead, the camera often trains on a land that is harsh, mountainous, rainy and austere.
"Maybe it is sad, but my ancestor Aristotle said that melancholy is the source of creation," he said in a 1999 lecture in Cannes.
In 2008 he told AFP in an interview: "I need to feel the winter, grey color to me is the most poetic. It allows me to leave the prison of my imagination; everything that is grey suits me."
Born in 1935 in Athens, Angelopoulos as a child lived through World War II and the Greek civil war of the late 1940s. The themes of occupation, fascism and dictatorship would recur in his movies.
He studied law in Greece, then literature at the Sorbonne but switched to the Institute of Advanced Cinematographic Studies in Paris.
Back in Greece he became a film critic for a left-wing newspaper until it was banned by the military government.
He made his first movie, "Reconstruction," in 1970, according to a biography on the Internet Movie Database. He directed more than a dozen films, most of them examining society in contemporary Greece.
He died Tuesday after being hit by a motorcycle ridden by an off-duty police officer. He suffered serious head injuries, internal bleeding and fractures, said George Georgiades, head of the intensive care unit at the private hospital.
The capital’s emergency service said it had opened an inquiry.
According to initial reports, police had closed one carriageway of a road at the request of the film crew but left open one, where the accident took place.
There was controversy over the fact that it took 35 to 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive at the scene, according to witnesses.
A representative of the paramedics’ union, Ioannis Houssos, in a radio interview bemoaned personnel shortages and poor maintenance of the fleet after two ambulances sent to rescue the filmmaker had mechanical problems.
The director’s death led news bulletins, and newspapers voiced sorrow at the loss. The Kathimerini daily praised the director’s "new humanism," while the Ethnos lamented the loss of a "poet of cinema."