Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Kazantzakis on screen: Jules Dassin’s He Who Must Die

I finally managed to track down and watch Jules Dassin’s He Who Must Die (Celui qui doit mourir), the American filmmaker’s (1957) version of Nikos Kazantzakis’ Christ Recrucified (aka The Greek Passion), which is about destitute Greek refugees fleeing Turkish persecution only to be refused shelter in a well-off village, which, ironically, is gearing up for its traditional Passion play.

The film’s not bad, a little tedious in places, and is hindered by such a quintessentially Greek story being shot in French, though the performances are mostly excellent – the Francophone actors make quite convincing Greeks and Jean Servais’ depiction of Papa Photis is particularly good and Dostoevskian. In fact, only Melina Mercouri (again playing a prostitute) is insufferable and indeed the film’s occasional descent into Dassin’s typically gushing philhellenism – exemplified by the inappropriate (to Kazantzakis’ vision) renditions, throughout the film, of the Greek National Anthem and patriotic folk songs, including Σαράντα παλικάρια and Πότε Θα Κάνει Ξαστεριά – is no doubt attributable to the influence of (Dassin’s wife) Mercouri’s own melodramatic and whimsical nationalism. All somewhat patronising – especially when you factor in the deployment and purpose of the Greek extras in the film, which is to die and keen and through their suffering become, for the leftist and McCarthy witch hunt exile Dassin, revolutionaries – but the film has its moments, and is as good and as bad as the other two efforts to film Kazantzakis, Michalis Cacoyiannis’ Zorba the Greek and Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation.

The above clip is the opening sequence to He Who Must Die. Go here or here to download the entire film as a torrent. The English subtitles are embedded in the film.

Kazantzakis scholar Peter Bien has written a short survey of the three attempts to film Kazantzakis, in which he is critical of Dassin, Cacoyiannis and Scorsese, who, Bien argues, each in their different ways, significantly distort Kazantzakis. Bien’s essay can be accessed here.