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JUSTIN TANNER REVIEWS

IPHIGENIA (1977)


by Justin Tanner

 

The first shot of Achilles (the achingly gorgeous Panos Michalopoulos) lying nude on the beach, flanked by his white horse and the surging waves of the ocean — his back arched, his moist eyes soft and searching, the barest hint of sandy pubes visible below the taut sinews of his abdomen, and looking as if he’s just mated with the earth itself — may be the hottest half minute in film history.


Image Courtesy Cinema V

If ever a mythic character was born to be 'bait,' it is Achilles. And if ever a ravishing stud was born to be Achilles, it is Michalopoulos.

His transition from the stoic, aloof King of the Myrmidons — furious that his name has been tangled up in a murder plot — to the open-hearted, stalwart hero who offers to lay down his life for honor, is a superlative lesson in nuanced acting.

And he's only one of an array of performers in the film, who (under the expert guidance of Michael Cocoyannis), bring thousands of years of Greek tradition — from Thespis to Katina Paxinou — onto the screen.


Image Courtesy Cinema V

“Iphigenia,” based on the play by Euripides written almost 2,500 years ago, feels as fresh as last week’s headlines: War is (and was and will ever be) a pointless exercise, driven by the petty machinations of the powerful and carried out by the manipulated loyalties of the powerless.

When Agamemnon, King of Argos, pisses off Greek Goddess Artemis by killing a deer, Artemis demands the sacrifice of Agamemnon’s young virginal daughter, Iphigenia, as payback.

But it’s war that is the real lure for all this bad behavior.

The deer’s death was accidental: Agamemnon was simply trying to feed the thousands of soldiers who’d been waiting on the beach (for years!) hoping for the thrill of attacking Troy.

But there’s no wind to push the sails of their ships and Artemis will only provide the wind if Iphigenia is sacrificed.

So Agamemnon, who is more interested in being a successful general than a good father, concocts a plan (using Achilles) to lure his daughter to her death.

Costa Kazakos (Agamemnon) brings waves of bruised indecision to his portrayal. Yet underneath his tears and writhing doubt lies the heart of a manipulative narcissist who just wants to earn his place in history, no matter the cost.

His scenes with the intensely focused Kostas Karras (as his brother, Menelaus), are so cogently argued and rationally balanced that the merits of filicide (murdering one’s own child) become tangible under the circumstances, and we find ourselves changing sides as each brother pleads his case.

As the dewy and unimaginably sweet Iphigenia, Tatiana Papamoschou is perfection, moving effortlessly from sylphlike innocence to wide-eyed terror; from gut-wrenching supplication to a fearless acceptance that melts the stone hearts of all but the high priest, Calchis (an implacable Dimitris Aronis).

But it is Irene Pappas, the great cinematic and theatrical goddess, who gives a performance for the ages as Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon and mother of Iphigenia.

Pappas’ work here is almost beyond description, inhabiting the role with awe-inspiring commitment and traversing her vast emotional expanse with the apparent ease of a true virtuoso.

In her scenes with Michalopoulos’ Achilles, every minute reaction is meticulously portrayed; her pointillistically responsive face transitioning step by step from flirty mother-in-law-to-be to humiliated, disbelieving dupe to calculating agent of revenge.

The music, the photography, the spectacle of seeing hundreds of half nude men lolling by the sea (or shouting with truculent fury as they demand the right to go to war), all bring this tragic legend to palpable life: even centuries later, the story remains timeless.

Yes, it’s in Greek, but the subtitles are large and easily read and more than worth the effort it takes to immerse yourself in the brilliantly rendered world of “Iphigenia.”

Your soul will be stirred, copious tears will be shed, and the final close up of Irene Pappas’ face will positively chill your blood.

STREAMING ON AMAZON PRIME

 

 

An LA-based playwright, JUSTIN TANNER has more than twenty produced plays to his credit, including Voice Lessons, Day Drinkers, Space Therapy, Wife Swappers, and Coyote Woman. His Pot Mom received the PEN-West Award for Best Play.

He has written for the TV shows Gilmore Girls, My So-Called Life and the short-lived Love Monkey. He wrote, directed and edited 88 episodes of the web series Ave 43, available on YouTube.

Tanner is the current Playwright in Residence for the Rogue Machine Theatre in Hollywood, where his two plays Minnesota and Little Theatre will premiere in the summer of 2022.

 

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Gordy Grundy

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