Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Stella, 1955

Melina Mercouri's first film (at the age of 35) STELLA, directed by Michael Cacoyannis, is an astonishing drama, a Greek version of CARMEN .... one watches fascinated as this tale of love and revenge builds to a stunning crescendo. 

Stella is a taverna singer who has romances but doesn't want to compromise and settle down. She hates the idea of marriage, particularly to a man who wants her to stay at home with babies and in fact lock her up. She is a restless, rebellious Greek woman who plays with men and enjoys her life as much as she can. But when she meets a young football player Mitso, things get complicated. He forces her to agree to their marriage and he and his mother fix the date, but Stella realises she cannot go through with it, despite knowing how the jealous Mitso will react. The stage is set for a Greek tragedy.

Melina is marvellous in the early scenes, fascinating all the men, whom we see doing those Greek dances and enjoying their masculine culture in the bars and taverns. Women are very much subordinate here - apart from free-living Stella. 
She tires of her current beau - Aleko - despite he having bought a piano for her; he later kills himself.. Once she and the sporty Mitso set eyes on each other, their passions erupt ...... We also get to know Stella's pals at the tavern, the girl who is jealous of her success with men and the older woman who tries to protect her. There is also a pertinent scene with Mitso's mother who makes it clear what her son expects in a wife and how it is best not to thwart him ... but Stella, like CARMEN will face her own destiny. Instead of going to her wedding she goes dancing with that 19 year old admirer dancing into a frenzy, as does Mitso back at the taverna .... 

George Foundas is Mitso - he was also in Cacoyannis's ZORBA THE GREEK where he also stabs the Greek widow (Irene Papas) whom his son killed himself over. 
STELLA was at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955 where Mercouri met Jules Dassin whom she married - their NEVER ON SUNDAY was that sensation in 1960 and all their work was at least interesting. The vivid music score here is by Manos Hadjidakis. Cacoyannis went on to several other fascinating movies like THE TROJAN WOMEN and odd misfires like THE DAY THE FISH CAME OUT in 1967 (Trash label), and of course the huge hit of ZORBA ...
This was the mercurial Mercouri's first cinema role and Melina (1920-1994) mesmerises here, as indeed she did in most of her roles: in NEVER ON SUNDAY, PHAEDRA, Dassin's LA LOI, TOPKAPI, 10.30 PM SUMMER and the rest. Check the Melina label for more reviews. 

As I mentioned in other posts, I had an afternoon with Melina back in 1968 when she led a march and demonstration in Trafalgar Square in London protesting about poverty in Biafra, Africa. I was an idealistic 22 year old and Melina led the march, resplendent in a long red dress and lots of gold chains. She of course became a Greek MP and campaigned for the return of those Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. 

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