A Girl in Black
To Koritsi me ta mavra

A complex allegory of the German Occupation viewed in retrospect as quite something else, a dirty prank on an island village, witnessed by two chums from Athens.

The theme is therefore close to Fellini’s Giulietta degli spiriti, but the young writer rather resembles the older Apu (Pather Panchali was also in competition at Cannes that year), so Bosley Crowther (New York Times) didn’t know what to think and summed up the film in two words, “interesting, insufficient”.

The charming song that accompanies the trip to the island behind the opening credits has a fine lilt of Auric & Clair’s “À nous la liberté”.


Our Last Spring

The visiting firemen, the girl who lives at the British Consulate...

The opening is the exhilaration of youth as Russell has it in French Dressing, racing along under its own power.

Fletcher sound, Lassally pictures, what young people see and hear.

A woman on a balcony, “cats that tear about at night...”

A beautiful corpse, the ideal legacy... from Sparta. The mind in anticipation of a fancy dress ball... A diva who abscondeth.

A certain detachment allows Cacoyannis to cover a great deal of ground in little time, he steps in to effect, on occasion as it were.

“In my youth, they said I had a flair...” One takes note of all this.

“We take pleasure in presenting a mime-play entitled The Benevolent Uncle.” Criticisms, tempers, crises, affections. “I hate electricity, don’t you?” Fads, temporary habitations. “I hate parties, don’t you?”

Eleanor Mannikka (Rovi), “uneven”.

As one says, “it’s a mystery!” Champagne, dreams, the Irish Revolution, ant heaps in Sicily, an Act of Contrition. “Is it a sin—to love?” A paroxysm. “Sebastian, I’m not weak!!”

Brook’s Lord of the Flies, Mackenzie’s Unman, Wittering and Zigo. The stone’s throw is from Cocteau (Le Sang d’un Poète). Antonioni’s L’Avventura (island temple), L’Embarquement pour Cythère (Watteau).

Victory. As in Sweet Country, the garden wall.



The wreaking of vengeance is foretold, an eagle flies above the ecstatic chorus, the deed is done. And Electra falls apart. That is the joke, upon which the entire structure rests.

Exterior filming invokes earth, sky, night and morning. The aged tutor knows what must be done, Electra knows the whole history of Clytemnestra’s tergiversation.

Orestes admires the too too solid grief of his sister the disjected princess. If he were the man, gods would not fail.

Clytemnestra, the mother who loses her daughter and turns to the enemy for succor.

Agamemnon in the net at his bath from her hands, slaughtered with an axe, for the silent prologue.

The Dioscuri do not appear, only the two paths at the end.



Zorba the Greek

The film operates as a mirror structure splitting the ideal protagonist into Zorba and the Englishman (who is half-Greek). They each encounter the widow (Irene Papas or Lila Kedrova) and are diverted by the Church or a whore. The widow dies. With an affect of nullity, the Englishman springs his formal surprise at the end, when the writer’s “pirouette” is identified by this structural device with the freedom and dancing of Zorba.

Cacoyannis eases this wonderful prodigy onto the screen by way of the rescue scene in It’s a Wonderful Life. You will remember that Robert Frost wrote a couple of poems called “A Hundred Collars” and “A Drumlin Woodchuck” (not to mention “The Star-Splitter”).

Cacoyannis registers the acting in close quarters and the pitching of the ship that makes Zorba a seasick Greek. The bulging muscles of his screenplay get him into drive with a characteristic cut on movement as the camera pans left on a woman walking through the landscape of Crete into the village. His interiors seem imbued with Retsina. The Englishman and the widow (Papas) nearly meet on the road in a scene that seems to resemble Tom Jones, and very likely influenced the “farewell” shot in the Dante’s Inferno of Ken Russell.

Zorba’s widow (Kedrova) is a cabaret artiste and likely an evocation of Hellas with her tales of bearded admirals and perfume and champagne baths. Her rump and Zorba’s cigarette combine to form an image from Toulouse-Lautrec. The tittering children behind the fence are Welles’ progeny (The Trial) or their kin.

The Englishman’s widow might be the Byronic ideal. She is certainly The Vision of Greece as filmed. Her death is built around the stoning at the end of Maria Candelaria.

Zorba’s widow re-enacts the death of Scrooge, surrounded by human vultures. Religion and commerce combine in the monastery timber venture, which collapses.


The Day the Fish Came Out

A brief windfall to the island of Karos, so bare and desolate that the fishermen and goatherds there are eager for a move to Greenland offered by the Danish government.

Two H-bombs and a sealed container are jettisoned over the island before a bomber crashes.

HQ6 and the Octagon send in a team of young officers disguised as “hotel experts” in “casual, comfortable clothes” humorously designed by Cacoyannis as Carnaby Street for men.  The pilot and navigator, maintaining secrecy, have shed their uniforms and swum ashore. Barefoot and in their underwear, they observe the strange tourists greeted effusively by the islanders. “Faggots,” the pilot concludes.

Already, and after a prelude citing the Palomares incident, Juran’s 20 Million Miles to Earth is perceptible.

It’s the near future, vacation spots are selected by computer, Rhodes is too crowded, try Karos.

Taking no chances, the phony hoteliers buy the west end of the island, and to be equitable put the other men to work building a road (they get an English lady out of the water with a tale of sharks). Word leaks out, “sex on the rocks”, a statue is found, Karos swarms with chic tourists and teams of archæologists.

The brightly-painted village, plain before, has every house a hotel for guests.

Arthur Mitchell and Mikis Theodorakis get up a beach party ensemble.

The bombs are recovered. An unusually large coffin borne through town by the men from the Solar Hotel Corporation is explained as that of a fallen colleague.

One of the four goatherds, whose wife is early seen drilled upon by the island’s rudimentary dentist above the “Home Sweet Home” Café, has found the container and thinks there’s gold inside. It can’t be opened by anything except a laser beam or a certain chemical that one archæologist uses “to cut metal for replicas” (her brief romance with a subaltern is a subplot). After trying the dentist’s diamond drill, the goatherd spies the girl in her impromptu atelier and swipes the stuff.

Deep within the container are earthen ovoids, that’s all, wasted effort, discarded in the sea and the village cistern.

The two crewmen, reduced to begging in scarecrow mufti and a bed sheet (Arab visitors give the navigator so attired a friendly greeting he avoids), amass enough coins to call HQ6 at last from the town’s sole telephone, but too late. Everyone rushes to see dead fish floating up in the harbor, leaving the famished navigator to gorge on abandoned dinners, while the experts race for an emergency call and “useless” protective garments.

The party continues, however, ignoring a repeated loudspeaker admonition.

Reviewers have found themselves ludicrously unable to follow the action, especially in its first flurries, therefore it is described in such terms as “silly”, “senseless” or “witless”, even “pretentious”, all of which apply only to the reviewers.


The Trojan Women

The technique is quite the same as Electra, there is an epiphany and a chorus of women adapted from the stage, the filming is exterior, the joke on which it rests is really the climax of the play, and after this their exile. The political point is made to set up the joke, that is, the Trojan Horse as symbol of tame withdrawal prepares the picture of Helen as a woman of doubtful character who ruins the city by her simple desire to spend all its wealth.

Among the turns, Hecuba and the chorus hold the stage. Cassandra and Andromache, then Helen. The degradation of the city is lamented at its downfall, finally it is gone. The lowest possible tones are achieved, Cassandra’s lucidity, the living death of Andromache, Hecuba’s pertinacity.

Critics thought they were seeing an empty show, like Hector’s armor rattling in the breeze. The performances have been disprized, though at no point is the film less than it should be.


The Story of Jacob and Joseph

The tiller of the ground succeeds upon the husbandman and the archer, this is the history of civilization.

The arts of counting and writing appear in consequence of this. The interpretation of dreams is an adjunct. “You listen to your God,” says Pharaoh to Joseph, “but you study the Nile records.”

The dramatic construction is an expression of this. Cacoyannis films in Israel, as McNaught had done for A Story of David: The Hunted. The bare rock-strewn slopes of Isaac’s home are left behind for smooth hills, a tree and flocks in Haran, badlands fill the background of Jacob’s meeting with Esau.

Egypt is hieratic and formal, Potiphar has a tiring-chamber with golden jeweled adornments on stands, one has a human likeness.

The scenes are minutely detailed down to hundreds of frames for Jacob’s eyes turning to his mother in the ploy, his recognition of the trick played by Laban (“Esau!”), Joseph’s “ten Esaus”, Reuben’s change of heart, the seed-starved womb of Potiphar’s wife, the twice-seven years, the brothers as “spies”.

Jacob wakes from his dream of cherubs to see little boys kicking dust upon him from a stepped rock-ledge above, they scamper away.

Joseph prays that he might forgive, Benjamin’s life is spared with the offer of a forfeit.

Each of the two parts ends rather like Satyajit Ray’s Distant Thunder. Part I, “Jacob and Esau”, jump-cuts Jacob with his family toward the camera as they depart with their flocks, Part II, “Joseph and His Brothers”, has the aged patriarch and his sons similarly arriving at Egypt.

Isaac’s satisfaction in Esau mirrors Abraham (Huston, The Bible). A woman sings a selah after the pottage. Rembrandt and Blake are sought throughout as ideals. The veiled bride hovers in a crowd of dancing women, the bridegroom comes amid dancing men.

“I’d like to cut him,” says a brother, “like the priests of Jericho.” Jacob mourns over the bloodied coat as Potiphar’s wife holds Joseph’s robe (he scampers naked away).

“Three days is Pharaoh’s birthday, when all judgements are made,” Joseph partly explains. He wears the golden seal of Pharaoh on the first finger of his left hand.

Simeon in prison scratches lines on the wall to mark each day. “The seed of Abraham will die, there will be none to hear the voice of God when he speaks.” Mikis Theodorakis composed the score full of character.

Joseph’s prayer is “God, my God, make me forgive.”

“Interpretations come from God,” he further says. The wine butler admonishes his fellows, “do not underestimate the power of dreams.”

The baker’s head is lifted off for birds to peck at, the wine butler lives to bring Joseph into Pharaoh’s court. Analysis, Rod Serling tells us, is “the national pastime in the Twilight Zone.”


Attila 1974

The Cyprus coup and the Turkish invasion.

It comes now with an admission of massacres and a question.



Aristotle feigns to miss the point, and Canby effusively abuses the film that makes it, but such is criticism.

A play of changing minds in its secondary theme announced by Menelaus,

       I was mindless and juvescent

until, seeing what it meant, I beheld

the deed face to face...


and now I’ve changed my menacing speech


The arrival of the army is seen to precipitate the ardor Iphigenia exhibits lustrally, she muses while Achilles and her mother speak of her fate as the troops gather.

A symmetrical contrast to Electra, concluding the Euripides trilogy.


Sweet Country

The Chilean national anthem, because a witness to Cyprus in Attila 1974 says it’s exactly like Chile in 1973, same people, same causes, same reasons (a poster for the film appears early on).

The joke is it’s a photo with the President after a Graham Greene reception, kept in an autographed copy of The Honorary Consul, that causes all the fuss.

The ending (convent to Italian Embassy) is from Martin Ritt’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, not noticed by Vincent Canby, New York Times.

A nation of women and old men and eunuchs, the enemy is Franco Nero as “an unkempt little James Bond from Quebec,” he is something else again.

An ideal satire, painfully realized in the stark sense of realism pertaining to “a group of idealistic women trying to expose the evils of Fascism.”

But then, “maybe you have to be an Armenian genocide survivor.”

Chile, where the coffee grounds come from, as Charley’s aunt would say.


The Cherry Orchard

The game, which was due to be played, is a concrete observation of the time and place and currents such as Monet in Paris at the start, an exile après Travels with My Aunt (dir. George Cukor), say. The satirical familiarity of Sweet Country accounts for at least some of the shenanigans. It proceeds with no difficulty from Olivier’s The Three Sisters.

“And furthermore, my dog eats nuts!”

“How extraordinary.”

At the same time, “if only you could marry a rich man.”

Milou en Mai (dir. Louis Malle) is much the same thing, followed by Vanya on 42nd Street. Fanny och Alexander (dir. Ingmar Bergman) in the old nursery. Out-of-tune piano, pool tricks, potterers, potty. “Schlechter Musikant!

Which puts the thing back to Our Last Spring (Eroica), don’t you know. “If only her heart were ignited!”

Stephen Holden of the New York Times, “moving but imperfect”.

Variety, “awkward”.

Sight and Sound, “the first hour intrigues... becomes progressively slower.”

And so forth. Even the rifle shot... Ranevskaya is Cacoyannis’ Helen, who spends Troy into oblivion. “How dull your lives are! What dreary nonsense you talk.”

“It’s true! We lead such stupid lives.” A new master, for the which cp. The Music Room (dir. Satyajit Ray) and Blue Blood (dir. Andrew Sinclair), or for that matter Col. Stok in Billion Dollar Brain (dir. Ken Russell).

Doctor Zhivago (dir. David Lean), of course. Electra and Orestes vanish from the scene (cp. Tovarich, dir. Anatole Litvak).

“What Englishmen??” Zorba the Greek answers that.