Iphigenia (1977)

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Iphigenia
Dir. Michael Cacoyannis
Premiered at Cannes May 14, 1977

There’s an ongoing theory that Judaism, as a religion and culture, is several centuries newer than biblical historiography suggests, arising out of the same environmental and political upheaval that brought an end to the Bronze Age and coincided with the Trojan War, because several stories from the Biblical Book of Judges appear to have been adapted from Greek legends of the time, such as Iphigenia, which became the story of Jepthah. I mention this because that fact is more interesting than this movie, beloved in its own time, but today little more than a cautionary tale about the importance of the adaptation process.

It’s the beginning of the Trojan War, but there’s no wind to enable the Mycenaeans to sail across the water to Troy. Threatened with mutiny by his lieutenant, future legendary hero Odysseus (Christos Tsagas), King Agamemnon (Kostas Kazakos) seeks help from an oracle. The diagnosis is unsettling: the goddess Artemis is keeping the wind from blowing as revenge for a misdeed by Agamemnon’s father, and the only way the wind will return is if Agamemnon sacrifices his eldest daughter Iphigenia (Tatiana Papamoschou). Egged on by his brother Menelaus (Kostas Karras), the subject of the war’s causes, Agamemnon sends Iphigenia away from the family home, allegedly to marry Achilles (Panos Mihalopoulos). But word gets out, to the horror of Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra (Irene Papas).

Director Michael Cacoyannis adapted Iphigenia from his own production of Euripides’ play Iphigenia at Aulis, with certain changes made to make the story darker. But, much like Denzel Washington’s recent adaptation of Fences, Iphigenia is little more than a recording of the play– well-acted to be sure, but among the least visually imaginative big-budget films I’ve ever seen. Despite superficial appearances, theatre is not a visual medium in the same way as film, even in 1977, when the aesthetic gap between the two formats was much narrower. Watching a play, it is impossible to forget that you are watching actors on a stage, so there’s no point in pretending otherwise. But film has so much more to offer, and in that respect Iphigenia has little on hand.

How Did It Do?
Iphigenia remains acclaimed today– my disinterest is purely an unpopular opinion rather than the film aging poorly. If you think I’m a jackass for not liking the movie, go ahead. The film was Greece’s official submission for the 50th Academy Awards and accordingly got nominated, which is the only reason I’m reviewing it.

Next Time: A Special Day

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