"Iphigenia" is the kind of film classics professors will delight in assigning as homework. But their budding student-scholars shouldn't fret at the chance to ponder director Michael Cacoyannis' low-budget adaptation of Euripides' unfinished tragedy, "Iphigenia at Aulis." The myth of King Agamemnon's inner struggle over whether to heed the oracle's message that he sacrifice his eldest daughter (Iphigenia) to assure Greek victory at Troy is probably the kind of film they have been used to watching on public television, and preceded by critics urging 120 minutes of "educational merit."
But for Kentucky Fried heathens (like me) who sought out dime-store study guides as lifeboats from sophocles and the like, "Iphigenia" may spark a little unpleasant academic flashback.The character' long moments on camera spouting forth in the original dialogue (Greek with English subtitles) gives it the quality you might expect in the movie of a play, rather than the magic of theater brought to life on film.
Yet the fiery Irene Papas, whom Cacoyannis cast in the "Electra" that swept the 1962 awards in Cannes, turns Clytemnestra's angst at (husband) Agamemnon's deceit into the suffering of Everywoman. And it's interesting to watch Tatiana Papamoskou, 14, unfold in her first role as Iphegenia, who meets death stoically - departure from the playwright's ambiguous climax.
The film is a noble gesture on the part of Cacoyannis - director of "Zorba the Greek," "Stella." "A Girl in Black," "A Matter of Dignity," and so forth - who came to town earlier this week for the world premier of his 13th film. "Iphigenia" completes his vow to turn three Euripides plays into movies. He defends its contemporary appeal:
"It screams against corruption, militarism, oppression. That's what's going on today, and, unfortunately, looks like it will be going on tomorrow . . . If Euripides were alive today, he'd be a great Holly wood screenwriter."