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TRIBUTE: MELINA MERCOURI – 100 YEARS

14th Los Angeles Greek Film Festival

October 1-15, 2020

by Melina Chiaverini*

This month marks the 100th birthday of our beloved icon, Melina Mercouri. One of the most legendary Greek women of the 20th century. The Greek Ministry of Culture has declared 2020 the “Year of Melina Mercouri”. Let us celebrate the love and legacy of a colossal personality who taught us not only about life, but more importantly, showed us how to live it…

Melina Merkouri Portrait

“Topkapi” (1964)

“Never on Sunday” (1960)

Born on 18 October, 1920 to a prominent family in Athens, Greece: granddaughter to the Mayor of Athens, Maria Amalia (Melina) Mercouri was blessed with such sterling political pedigree that she was destined to find her voice in politics.

Before doing so, however, she forged a formidable career as an actress, both on stage and screen. First in Greece, where she graduated from the National Theatre of Greece Drama School. Then, internationally, on the Parisian stage and, notably, at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955 when she was nominated for Best Actress for her explosive debut film role in Michael Cacoyannis’ “Stella”.

“Never on Sunday” (1960)

Melina may have lost the award that night, but she won the heart of future husband, American film director, Jules Dassin. Most men were instantly entranced by Melina’s incredible beauty and charm, and Mr. Dassin was certainly no exception; the two became inseparable. They went on to make many films together, including “Never on Sunday” in 1960, for which Melina did win the Best Actress award at Cannes, and was nominated for an Academy Award. It was pure cinematic gold.

This success spun-off the stage musical hit “Illya, Darling”, starring Melina, and directed by now husband and mentor, Jules Dassin. Then, only ten days after its Broadway premiere, the 1967 Junta Dictatorship consumed Greece, and Melina’s political voice and destiny finally crystalized. She spoke out viscerally against the brutal military regime one night in an impromptu speech she gave from the stage, becoming, to many Greeks, their Hellenic heroine, and the voice of the people. Unfortunately, to the Junta’s Colonel Pattakos, she was lambasted as an enemy of the people, and he soon stripped her of her Greek citizenship, prompting Melina’s now famous response:

“I was born Greek. I will die Greek.
Colonel Pattakos was born fascist and he will die fascist.”

Rallying in Europe (1968)

Melina became an exile for seven years, living in France, championing tirelessly for the reinstatement of Greek democracy: she was a vexatious critic of the Greek Colonels. A force of nature. And, she was relentless. She didn’t stop fighting. Not until 1974, when the dictatorship fell, and she could finally return to her beloved homeland.

Back in Greece, Melina impacted the political landscape by joining the Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK). She became the first female Minister of Culture, courageously spearheading the campaign for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. Melina Mercouri’s name became synonymous with the cause, inspiring her to promise:

     “I hope to see the marbles return to Athens before I die.
But, if they return later,
I will be reborn.”

All the while, Melina remained a fixture on stage and screen. Throughout the course of her illustrious career, she starred in 19 films, over 60 plays, and recorded 26 albums, winning countless prestigious awards, and promoting Greece to the forefront of the world’s artistic stage.  

A notorious smoker, Melina passed away on 6 March, 1994 from lung cancer complications. It is estimated that an unprecedented one million people attended her Athens funeral with Prime Minister’s honors.

The Greek flag embraces Ms. Mercouri’s casket (1994)

Today, Melina Mercouri’s legacy is as strong as ever: the movie star, the politician, the woman. The Greek. Her fight for the Marbles lives on, her contribution to the stage through awards lives on, and her phenomenal light as a symbol of the spirit of Greek democracy shines, perhaps, brighter than ever.

I was named after Melina Mercouri, and it is an honor to be invited to write this Tribute for her. In contemplating Melina, the lesson that resonates strongest with me is that Melina loved everything Greek. And, she used it all, everything she had, showing us that the richest currency in this life is life, itself. And, it must be spent – love, dance, sing, scream, forgive, jump in the ocean, and do it all with a mischievous wink, and quintessential, boisterous Melina laugh! She would want nothing less for every Greek. May her memory remain cherished in our hearts forever.

Χαρούμενη εκατοστή επέτειο γενεθλίων, Μελίνα, σε αγαπάμε, x.

MELINA MERCOURI
[1920-1994]
THE LAST GREEK GODDESS

*ABOUT THE WRITER:

Melina Chiaverini is an Australian-born, Greek-Italian actress and writer living in Beverly Hills, California. She is the creator of, and is currently developing the MERCOURI FILM PROJECT: an original, award-winning feature screenplay, working title, “MELINA: I Was Born Greek”, written by Melina Chiaverini. Based on a true story on the life of Melina Mercouri as told by her beloved brother, Spyros Mercouris. Ms. Chiaverini worked closely with Mr. Mercouris, before he sadly passed in 2018. It was one of his last wishes that this film be made. Today, the Mercouri Film Project has the ongoing support of the Mercouris family.

Spyros Mercouris working with Melina Chiaverini (2018)

The creative vision is to complete a Greek feature film that showcases and pays tribute to both Melina Mercouri and Greece. A never-before told story of a woman ahead of her time: a passionate, rebellious, Greek artist who, despite reaching the heights of fame, only wanted to be grounded with, and for her people. For democracy. A juxtaposition of character sure to both confound and endear any audience. A story of a woman, a war, and the two men urging her either side of it.

Left to right: Jules Dassin, Melina Mercouri and Spyros Mercouris.

It’s an empowering and poetic, female-driven script brimming with international appeal and current political relevance. This film has the potential to join the prestigious ranks of great Greek cinema, and certainly boasts international awards appeal.  

2020 is Melina Mercouri’s 100th birthday; the perfect time to celebrate her legacy for the first time in the forum she so loved – the big screen. And, to that end, “good luck to us!” (Spyros Mercouris, 2018).

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7476030/reference

The MERCOURI FILM PROJECT is currently inviting expressions of interest.
For inquiries and more information, please email production at: mercourifilm@yahoo.com