Scene froim "Phaedra"
Directed by: Jules Dassin.
Screenplay: Jules Dassin, Margarita Lymberaki.
Director of Photography: Jacques Natteau.
Set Design: Max Douy.
Costume designer: Denny Vachlioti.
Music: Mikis Theodorakis.
Film editor: Roger Dwyre.
Cast: Melina Mercouri (Phaedra), Anthony Perkins (Alexis), Raf Vallone (Thanos), Georges Sarri (Arianna), Elisabeth Ercy (Ersi), Andreas Filippides (Andreas), Giorgos Karousos (PhaedraΥs father), Olympia Papadouka (Anna), Stelios Vokovich (Stavros), Nikos Tzogias, Depi Martini, Jules Dassin.
Production: Melinafilm (Athens), Jorilie Productions (USA) for United Artists. Duration: 115 minutes. Black and white.
Thanos Kyrillis, a rich Greek ship-owner, inaugurates his new ship named after his second wife, Phaedra. During the reception following the ceremony, Thanos asks Phaedra to go to London and meet the son from his first marriage, Alexis, in order to persuade him to come to Greece. Phaedra falls in love with Alexis, a sensitive fine arts student, and, shortly after, the two begin an affair. However, Alexis refuses to follow Phaedra to Greece. His father, who wants to marry him to Ersi, daughter of a ship-owner, finally persuades him to come to Greece. Alexis does not seem indifferent to his fatherΥs proposal and he leaves Phaedra who, in her desperation, confesses her love affair to Thanos. He orders his son to leave Greece and Alexis throws himself with his car into a gorge. While Phaedra commits suicide, Kyrillis, who knows nothing about the double tragedy, reads the names of the sailors who lost their lives after the sinking of "Phaedra".
Faithful to the Spirit of Tragedy
by Fabian Siclier and Jacques Levy
While in Never on Sunday, Ilya wanted to believe that Medea and Oedipus ended happily with a walk by the sea, this version of Phaedra remains faithful to the original tragic spirit of the play.
The modernisation of the story made Theseus an extremely rich Greek ship-owner and turned Hippolytus' carriage into an aerodynamic Aston Martin while Phaedra's libations to the gods remind us of the generous gesture that André Gide described to us: the moment she throws her precious ring in River Thames.
Here, in contrast to Racine's Phaedra, the incestuous act ends in a wonderful scene where the intensity of passion is indicated by the rain beating against the roomΥs windows and by the flames in the fireplace behind the two firmly embraced bodies.
However, Dassin admitted that setting the tragedy in the world of the wealthy was a mistake. The director does not feel very comfortable with this Greek elite, which has absolutely no relation to the poor neighbourhoods of Piraeus or the notorious ones of Soho or Pigalle. However, the choice of this setting allows him to compose some scenes evoking exaggeration.
The impressive tone aims at the transcendence of the drama without which Phaedra would be an ordinary story of adultery. Through the prism of this thought we should view Thanos' extreme gesture when he unloads a "rainfall of roses" on the bridge of his wife's yacht. On the other hand, Phaedra's pain, when losing her lover, is consonant with the women's grief for their husbands' deaths in the "S/S Phaedra" shipwreck.
Despair is equally strong for both Phaedra and the sailors' wives. Dassin puts Phaedra dressed in white to move across the group of black-dressed women, who gather to learn the names of the dead to remind us that, beyond the sorrows of some wealthy people, most victims come from the lower classes.
However, Phaedra's cruel fate, which is indicated in parts of the film (her nursemaid's prophetic dream, the loud noise of an airplane engine when Phaedra whispers "I'm scared") does not make the audience sympathise with her. The same happens with the emotional conflicts, the family fights of the elite and its social manifestations; all this leave us with an artificial aftertaste.
Overall, the most cheerful part of the film is the one that takes itself less seriously; the love story in London when Phaedra threatens Alexis by saying: "If you even call me mother, IΥll kill you!".