Melina Mercouri will always be remembered as the “last Greek goddess” and the “passionate woman” because all her life was full of dreams, hope, agonies and fights. This is Melina Mercouri, Melina of all Greeks and foreigners, who was defined as one of the most significant Greek women of the 20th century.
By Mia Kollia
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos
She was a personality with international prestige, the longest-serving Greek minister of Culture, award-winning actress with a significant career in both theatre and cinema in Greece and abroad. She was charismatic, full of talent, vividness and love for life. She was luminous. Coming from a political family, she was granddaughter to Athens mayor Spyros Merkouris and later got married to Jules Dassin. Always a fighter, restless, intelligent and inspired, she was loved not only by Greek people but internationally. A woman that made Greece shine in Greek and international press through her ideas, her fights and her cultural achievements.
She was highly charming as a woman and significantly popular and successful as minister of Culture. As an artist, she was world-class. But above all she was a human being. A human being with struggles, goals, feelings, weaknesses and ambitions.
So let’s click on a moment of her life.
1955 - Stella
Michael Cacoyannis’s “Stella”, a film based on the theatrical play “Stella with the Red Gloves” written by Iakovos Kambanelis, is screened in “Metropol” summer movie theatre in Patision Boulevard. “Metropol” was a forerunner movie theatre at the time of most theatres and cultural sites that appeared a few years later.
Leading actress Melina Mercouri arrives at the cinema evidently anxious together with Despo Diamantidou and co-producer Vasilis Lampiris. The film is heretical for the time. Dynamic speeches by teachers and priests preceded the film to convince people not to watch it.
“Metropol” was a meeting point of Athens’ high society of the time and its patrons were ironic towards Greek productions.
Melina knew that and according to statements when she received invitation to attend that screening she said to a cinema fellow the following outstanding line: “In Metropol? Ahhh!! Aren’t they going to throw us any tomatoes in the face?”.
But when the end of the film came, Melina was touched by the audience’s reaction and the applause. Later that night she said: “You’ll see, “Stella” won’t stay in Kaminia of Piraeus but will go anywhere that wants to…”. Maybe prophetical? Who knows.
“Stella”, as well as Melina Mercouri, dynamic and unconventional, they became international symbols of women’s emancipation. In contrast to the standard and usual prototype of the “good girl” of the time, she spoke touching the hearts of all women.
“Stella” won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film in 1956. Melina won people’s love and recognition for everything she fought for her country to take back. She knew how to fight for her ideas. She was a strong personality that fought hard for her beliefs, like the protection of ancient Greek national heritage. The most well-known of her battles was for the return of the Parthenon marbles to Greece. She also defended Greek arts and culture and argued for the renovation of Acropolis, the creation of Acropolis museum, the establishment of the “European Capital of Culture” and the historic centre of Athens.
At a TV interview she once said: “I never reminisce the past. I look at the future. I carry the past, I feel rich in experiences, I’ve got wounds, tears, joy, but I don’t remain in the past. I am looking to the future and say, what we’ll be tomorrow?” That suspense for the future of her country led her to look forward. She wondered about the development of Greek arts and culture and the international recognition of their people and as such, she created new ways by institutionalising fresh ideas and actions.
Culture: the soul of society
Melina brought culture in the spotlight and made it more powerful. In a EEC meeting of ministers of culture in 1983 she said that “culture is the soul of society” adding also: “Culture, art and creation are not less important than commerce, economy and technology”.
Amalia-Maria Mercouri, Melina of all Greeks, made her dreams come true. She fought, she got angry, she created and as such, she captured people’s hearts and has stayed there forever.