Monday, January 17, 2011

Michael Cacoyannis - To Koritsi me ta Mavra aka A Girl in Black (1956)

'Girl in Black'; Film by Cacoyannis of Greece Opens at Paris
THERE is one hideous episode in the Greek film, "A Girl in Black," which came yesterday to the Paris, that sends shivers down the spine and rather vividly indicates the climate of this modern Hellenic tragedy. It is when a young man of Hydra, sun-baked island in the Sea of Crete, sets upon his own widowed mother in the open streets of the town and beats her for being a loose woman while the jeering townsfolk gather round.

Passionately and wildly, the youth lashes at his mother's face, punches her with brutal fury and tears at her unloosed hair. And drawn to the street by the commotion, his poor, frightened sister pitches in and tries to pull him away from their weeping mother. It is a shocking, humiliating scene.

Actually, this is incidental to the more cogent matter of the film, which is the love of the sad and sensitive daughter for a young writer who comes to board in her mother's home. But so candidly realistic is it and so suddenly does it explode in the early part of the picture that it blasts all prospects of "prettiness" from the screen and prepares the viewer unequivocally for trouble and tragedy.

This is what Michael Cacoyannis, young Greek writer-director, has put forth in truly torrential abundance in this interesting, insufficient film. He bombards the viewer with strong emotions, sprays him with frank brutality and flays him with shameless sadism on the part of a gang of sports in the town. Toward the end, he chases out to left field and concocts a catastrophe in which a lot of children are drowned, amid much wailing, that is a sheer superfluity.

Just what it is the young director is trying to prove is obscure, because of his obvious disposition to generate details of grief. But as nearly as we can determine, he is playing around with the idea that the cause of much human suffering is man's inhumanity to man.

Anyhow, it is the slander of the townsfolk that causes the son to feel homicidal shame at the piteous frailties of his poor mother. It is the gibes of the hairy-chested sports that cause the progress of the romance between the daughter and the writer to hit the rocks. And it is the sheer practical joking of the most enterprising of these snickering toughs that brings on the drowning episode with which the romance reaches its denouement.

But for all the thematic indecision and emotional obscurity of this film, Mr. Cacoyannis has made it a striking and interesting one. He is a bear for realism—his recent "Stella" made that plain—and he uses a camera on location as though he were shooting for a picture-magazine.

What is more—and most important—he can get an actor to perform complicated emotional experiences with stirring clarity. He has got from Ellie Lambetti a deeply moving indication of how a girl emerges from a knot of shame and shyness into a luminous efflorescence of first love. And he has brought forth a frank impersonation of a weak, guileless lover from Dimitri Horn. It is the tenderness of these two that makes for the small glow in this film.

Anestis Vlachos is also moving as the dark, desperate brother who runs to blows, and George Foundas, the hero of "Stella," is seamy as the leader of the toughs.

The scenery on the island of Hydra is handsomely shown in black-and-white, and the Greek dialogue is well conveyed in English subtitles.

Also on the Paris' bill is a charming British short called "Bow Bells," with scenes of London shown to old London songs.
Bosley Crowther, NY Times, September 17, 1957

Subtitles: English,Spanish
no pass