Thursday, November 30, 2017

Michael Cacoyannis: 'Iphigenia' (1977)

Michael Cacoyannis' Iphigenia (1977) is a sharp film adaptation of Iphigenia in Aulis, the circa 407 B.C. play by Euripides (circa 480-406 B.C.). Chock full of psychological and existential crossroads, it has the additional benefit of having Irene Papas (born in 1926 -- now 91 years old) in the role of Clytemnestra -- the mother of Iphigenia and Orestes, wife of Agamemnon, and sister-in-law of Menelaus and Helen of Troy.   
In Iphigenia, so many things converge and collide, with just a handful of characters carrying the core drama. 

The thousand (small) ships of the Greeks are beached at Aulis, ready to carry the army across the Aegean Sea to attack Troy. The winds are listless and the army is restless and hungry. Agamemnon, the man they chose to lead them as overall king, orders food to be collected from the surrounding area. An archer kills a deer sacred to the goddess Artemis, who becomes pissed off and demands, according to augur-seer Calchas, the sacrifice of Agamemnon's oldest daughter, Iphigenia, before she'll kick the winds up again and let the army set sail for Troy.

Agamemnon is appalled, and considers, among other options, dissolving the army rather than going through with it. His brother Menelaus argues with him, back and forth. They are both portrayed with empathy, unlike Odysseus who is depicted as concerned only with getting the army to war against the Trojans as quickly as possible and at whatever cost. 

Eventually, Agamemnon has to trick Clytemnestra into bringing Iphigenia from, presumably, Mycenae to Aulis, so that she can be married to Achilles, commander of the Myrmidons. All hell breaks out when everyone learns the truth.

Some of the themes that jump loose include: the fickle nature of the gods, and fate, and life; the instability of power; the sacrifices demanded for "success;" the wildness of men primed for war and bloodlust (it's noted in the film that had Agamemnon not ordered the sacrifice as required by Artemis, the army might very well have turned on him and killed his whole family); and individual choice vs. fate. All of these themes convey a sense of urgency to the story, ensuring its continued popularity right into the 21st century. Plus, it's so damned absorbing, everything related to the Trojan War.

Today's Rune: Partnership.   

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

This sounds really good. Man, the gods have been causing trouble since the beginning.