Irene Papas, the Electra of cinema, dies

In a few tragic days for the world of culture, after the deaths of Javier Marias, Alain Tanner, William Klein and Jean-Luc Godardgreek actress Irene Popes is added to the list of losses of this end of summer. She was born on September 3, 1926, she had just turned 96, although she had been retired from the stage and screen since the mid-2000s. She died this Wednesday in a town near Corinto, she suffered from Alzheimer’s. Her last job was with Catherine Deneuve, Stefania Sandrelli and John Malkovich in Manoel de Oliveira’s film ‘A Talking Movie’ (2003)although the following year she made her only attempt as a director, ‘Ecuba-Il film’.

Her beginnings in the Athenian theater catapulted her as actress of classical tragedies like ‘Medea’, ‘Electra’ and ‘The Trojan Women’. In the cinema she began starring in popular Italian films directed by Raffaello Matarazzo, Riccardo Freda, Steno and Mario Monicelli. She complied well with a certain notion of mediterranean photogenic which was in style then. So it was somewhat surprising that she made the leap to Hollywood in 1956 to play opposite James Cagney the western. “The Law of the Gallows” by Robert Wise. Five years later she was already part of the international cast of ‘The Guns of Navarone’a characteristic war production starring Gregory Peck, David Niven and Richard Harris.

During the 1960s he combined the contest in Anglo-Saxon productions of these characteristics with the interpretation of film versions of Greek tragedies in which he had gained experience on stage, such as ‘Antígona’ (1961) by Yorgos Javellas and ‘Electra’ (1962 ) by Mihalis Kakogiannis, this one with music by Mikis Theodorakis.

With both, director and composer, he repeated in what would be his first film of international resonance, ‘Zorba the Greek’ (1964)about the relationship between an English writer who takes possession of a house in Greece and the vitalist Zorba played by Anthony Quinn.

Between Hollywood and Greece

Papas benefited from the worldwide success of this film, but managed to maintain a certain harmony between the attraction of Hollywood –with his participation in ‘Mafia’ (1968) and ‘Ana de los mil dias’ (1969)– and his roots in the tradition of classic tragedy, which led him to star in a version of ‘The Trojan Women’ (1971), again with his esteemed Kakogiannis and Thedorakis. In between, he took part in one of the films that define the political cinema of those years, ‘Z’ (1969) by Costa-Gavrasanother of the high points of his always committed career.

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She became a regular actress in a certain denunciation cinema that would swing between the Italy of francesco rose –’Christ stopped at Eboli’ (1979), ‘Chronicle of a death foretold’ (1987)– and Elio Petri –’To each his own’ (1967)– and the Lebanese cinematography of the director Moustapha Akkad, for whom he interpreted ‘Muhammad, the messenger of God’ (1977) and ‘The lion of the desert’ (1980), both co-starring with Anthony Quinn.

Starting with ‘Party’ (1996) he was a recurring presence in the Portuguese cinema Manuel de Oliveiraand that was one of the characteristics of the last stretch of his career, working in different countries with the most diverse filmmakers. For example, his intervention in ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ (2001), in which his character contemplated the love story on a Greek island between Nicolas Cage and Penélope Cruz, and his work in ‘Yerma’ (1998), the adaptation of Lorca’s work made in Spain by Pilar Távora.