The Trojan Women [DVD] [1971]

An all-but-forgotten "international cinema" freak from the days when it was cool for mainstream film to struggle toward a classical literacy, Michael Cacoyannis' The Trojan Women is an essentially faithful adaptation of Euripides' progressive drama, and therein lies the sand in the clam. Whatever its popularity in its own day, and regardless of its influence and importance as a cultural touchstone, ancient Greek drama is pretty dry, stodgy, histrionic stuff when played straight, and Cacoyannis -- a thin talent who hasn't had a resonant or original idea in some 40 years of moviemaking -- plays it straight as a yardstick. Euripides' outline still resonates: after the fall of Troy, the surviving women in the occupied and decimated city wander amid the ruins, finally resisting the Greek army in its final strokes of oppression. As ex-queen Hecuba (Katharine Hepburn) protests at the top of her shaky lungs, near-mad Cassandra (Geneviève Bujold) is apprehended and shepherded off into a forced marriage, Andromache (Vanessa Redgrave) watches as her royal-lineage-bearing son is taken away to be executed, and Helen (Irene Papas) weathers both the manipulation of the Greeks and the furious animosity of the Trojan women. Explicitly anti-war and proto-feminist, and an interesting compliment to 2004's Troy, The Trojan Women is, nevertheless, hindered by an awkward cast yowling out stilted, Old World speeches. (The actresses, all of them fascinating to one degree or another, get no help from the director; in particular, the breathtakingly lovely Redgrave comes off disinterested and almost amateurish in her Sturm und Drang.) It impressed no one in 1971, but still, as the new, minimally supplemented DVD edition demonstrates, there's something chastening about the movie's faith in Euripides as dramatic fire, and oddly unsettling about its fidelity to genuine, paganized Greek landscapes. The mountainous compositions, their horizons manned everywhere by armed guards, are fabulously shot by workhorse cinematographer Alfio Contini, who also shot Antonioni's Zabriskie Point. Needless to say, no one could make this film today, with this caliber of cast; only in the era of New Waves was it possible to suggest that movie audiences might be interested in ancient drama sans the benefit of sex, digital crowds, or over-edited battle carnage. The Trojan Women may not work, but its very existence shames our popular film culture today.
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Special Features

  • Director's note
  • Michael Cacoyannis: Filmography
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Stills gallery


The Trojan Women
The Trojan Women is a film of the ancient Greek tragedy by Euripides, which is a highly mannered, ritual-like stage play. It was not easy to transform it into a movie while remaining faithful to the play, but there are many rewards for the patient viewer. The score by Mikis Theodorakis (Zorba the Greek) fits the story beautifully, and the film's re-creation of the ancient Mediterranean is memorable. Finally, the original play, despite its great age, has what are still considered among the finest roles ever written for women. The story concerns the trials and tribulations of the women of Troy at the time of Greek conquest and the truth and chilling power of the curses they hurl at their captors, who have slain every male of their nation, including the infants. Particularly notable is the performance of Irene Papas as Helen, a woman of infinite guile, whose abduction by Paris led to the whole debacle in the first place. ~ Clarke Fountain, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Katharine Hepburn
    Katharine Hepburn - Hecuba
  • Vanessa Redgrave
    Vanessa Redgrave - Andromache
  • Irene Papas
    Irene Papas - Helen
  • Brian Blessed
    Brian Blessed - Tathybius
  • Patrick Magee
    Patrick Magee - Menelaus

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