DISAPPEARANCE – The great tragic actress died on Wednesday. In the cinema, she will have been the partner of Anthony Quinn but the depth of her game will have allowed her to play the ancient heroines of Euripides and Homer.
Antigone, Electra, Helen of Troy, Penelope of course… Irène Papas knew how to embody the legends of ancient Greece with all her strength of conviction and majestic beauty. The immense tragic actress, born in 1926 near Corinth died on Wednesday at the age of 96. The announcement of her disappearance was made by the Ministry of Culture, which added in its press release that she “personified Greek beauty on screen and on stage”.
The modern epics of the seventh art have not forgotten to immortalize the talent of the actress either. In Lthe Canons of Navarone J. Lee Thompson entrusted him with the character of the fierce resistance fighter Maria Pappadimos. Under the direction of her mentor and friend Michael Cacoyannis, she will be the martyred widow in Zorba the Greek. Costa-Gavras made her the wife of the murdered deputy in his whistleblower film Z. And each time the stripped acting of this actress, whose only enigmatic glance signed a scene, will have marked the cinema.
Impeccable reincarnation of the characters of Euripides, Sophocles, Homer, Irène Papas also splashed with her qualities as an interpreter the magic and pop symphonies of Vangelis in her first group Aphrodite’s Child then a little later in odes, a collection of traditional Greek songs. In 1980, of passages in Paris to present this album, she will say with an unfeigned humility, why she had thrown herself into this adventure: “ My grandfather was a folk song collector. I myself know hundreds of them by heart. With Vangelis, we are only reviving the Greek soul and its traditions.»
Irène Papas’ odyssey on this earth began on September 3, 1926. Irini Lekelou was born under good auspices: her two parents were teachers and her grandfather was a poet. Good blood cannot lie and at twelve years old, undoubtedly encouraged by the authors of her days, Irene joined the Royal School of Dramatic Art in Athens. Under the aegis of Dimitris Rondiris, a gifted follower of the pioneer of modern staging Max Reinhardt, the young student was introduced to Molière’s theatre, singing and dancing. His general training is not neglected either. Based on a knowledge of the humanities, it will later allow him to master, in addition to Greek, French, Italian and English.
At twenty, with so many assets in her quiver, Irene Papas has a well-made and beautifully shaped head. But by a curious paradox, this intelligent and splendid woman like the statues of Phidias, sometimes thrills filmmakers and directors who do not know how, at first, to explode the talents of this hypersensitive woman. After being noticed in Theodora, Empress of Byzantium (1956) where she plays Saïda, the whole world discovers her in Law of the Prairie by Robert Wise where she meets the legendary American actor James Cagney.
After some important films like Bouboulina of Kostas Andristos (1959) where she wraps herself in the symbolic dress of Laskarina Bouboulina, the heroine of the Greek war of independence, she turns into a fierce Greek anti-Nazi resistance fighter, Maria Pappadimos, in The Cannons of Navarone by J. Lee Thompson. In this cinematographic triumph she rubs shoulders with Gregory Peck, David Niven and above all Anthony Quinn. In a scene from the film Maria will confess, with a wild modesty worthy of the goddess Athena, to the tough Colonel Andrea Stavros portrayed by the American actor, “as he pleases“. This love of cinema will turn into a beautiful friendship in the city as well as on stage. They will play three times together on the screen and in particular in Zorba the Greek by Michael Cacoyannis where Irène Papas blends into the tragic character of a widow murdered because she refuses to submit to the harsh law of Cretan men.
Having become a living myth rather than a glittering international star, the actress returns to her first love, Greek tragedy, often under the direction of Cacoyannis, her compatriot and artistic double. She is first of all a Penelope with painful beauty, heartrending nobility, in theOdyssey by Franco Rossi (1969). Then the roles of Helen of Troy (The Trojans), of Clytemnestra (Iphigenia in 1977), always under the direction of his mentor, allow him to revisit the genius of Euripides.
Never tired of discovering new horizons, Irène Papas, at the end of her career, launched herself into a more intellectual cinema. In 1983, she was not afraid to transform into a detestable grandmother in Erendira by Ruy Guerra an adaptation of a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The meeting of these two sacred monsters will make the actress confess, like a buried profession of faith, that it will have been her artistic creed: “ Gabriel is an inner sci-fi magician. But beyond his delirious imagination, I love him, because he knows how to mix that with reality, as I have always modestly tried to do.»