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Recognition scene from "Electra"
Greece, 1962
Directed by: Michael Cacoyannis.
Screenplay: Michael Cacoyannis from the tragedy by Euripides.
Director of photography: Walter Lassaly.
Editor: L Antonakis.
Music: Mikis Theodorakis.
Cast: Irene Papas (Electra), Aleka Katseli (Clytemnestra), Yiannis Fertis (Orestes), Fivos Razis (Aegisthus), Manos Katrakis (utor), Takis Emmanouil (Pylades).
Production: Michael Cacoyannis for Finos Film.
Length. 110 min. Black and white.
Best film, best direction and best actress (Irene Papas) awards at the 1962 Thessaloniki Film Festival. Silver Laurel at the 1962 Berlin Festival. Special Jury Award at the 1962 Acapulco Film Festival.

Agamemnon makes his victorious return from the Trojan War with his slaves at his side, only to be slain in the bath by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. Years later, the royal couple marries Electra, who has now come of age, off to a peasant to deprive her of the possibility of avenging her fatherΥs murder. Electra wonders what has happened to her brother Orestes, who has been outlawed by Aegisthus. Orestes secretly sneaks into the kingdom with his friend Pylades and meets Electra without either of them recognizing each other after being apart for so many years. Electra invites him to her home and there Orestes is recognized by their old tutor. The two siblings plot their revenge, which they carry out immediately. While Orestes and Pylades, pretending to be visitors to the wine festival, find their opportunity to kill Aegisthus, Electra invites Clytemnestra to her home under the false pretense that she has given birth to a son (though we know her marriage has not been consummated). Orestes hesitates, but at ElectraΥs urgings, brother and sister kill their mother. Subsequently the two go their different ways, while Pylades follows Electra as his friend desires.

A just passion

Michael Cacoyannis has an easier task because Euripides had a far richer human response to his characters in their fateful predicament than Sophocles with his insistent moralizing. But in my view Cacoyannis was right when he decided to try to match the essential stylisation of Greek poetic drama with the kind of visual-aural stylisation that Eisenstein evolved in film technique. He never introduces a stagey compromise with pseudo-classical film sets. He uses the gaunt, uncompromising, weather-worn stones of Mycenae itself as the prison-house in which the rebellious spirit of Electra is confined. The violent legend is established in an opening sequence of stylised action brilliantly concentrated in shots which at once reveal the relationship of the principal characters and create the baleful mood of the tragedy.
Michael Cacoyannis, supported by Walter LassalyΥs austerely beautiful photography and a brilliant musical score by Mikis Theodorakis, uses an impressive mountain location lying between Athens and Sounion as the setting for this melancholy story of a just passion carried to excess. He achieves his stylisation through the formal grouping and movements of his characters, including the black-robed Chorus of peasant women associated with Electra in her mountain home, through the emphasis he places on significant actions such as ElectraΥs hair which she cuts off and flings at her motherΥs feet as a sign that she regards herself as degraded to a slave, and through the sudden use of turmoil in nature to heighten the violence of murders which, apart from that of Agamemnon in the opening sequence, do not take place on the screen. When Clytemnestra is killed by her son behind the closed door of ElectraΥs house, the whole of nature and mankind disrupts in a sudden chaos similar to that following the murder of Agamemnon, when Electra the child stands silently screaming during a cataclysmic storm. Only the most significant dialogue is retained to carry the action forward, while the atmosphere which in the play is created by a poetry is made manifest in the film by imagery natural to the screen.

Irene Papas gives great emotional intensity to the very difficult part of Electra; difficult, especially because it is in the end unsympathetic and limited in range to the expression of lamentation for her father and desire for vengeance. Aleka Katseli creates a splendidly decorative Clytemnestra, and Yannis Fertis a noble Orestes. This production of Electra justifies the faith Eisenstein had in the film as a medium which lends itself as readily to formal stylisation as it does to the effect of realism with which most films are concerned.

Roger Manvell
"Film & Filming", Vol. 9, May 1963

see: Cinemythology

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