“Aliki Vougiouklaki was far more than a film star. For a country torn apart by war, she also represented the hopes of a nation.”
This quote, taken from an article in Port Magazine, is possibly the ONLY article you will find on the internet dedicated to Aliki Vougiouklaki in such colour, such detail and such… English.
Why? Because Greece’s national treasure of the stage and screen is virtually unknown outside of her homeland; which is staggering, considering she was the Greek bombshell equivalent of Brigitte Bardot in the 50s and 60s.
What Sophia Loren is to Italy, what Catherine Deneuve is to France, what Marilyn Monroe is to America; this is what Aliki Vougiouklaki is to Greece. A true icon for the people – not only back then, but today as well – and the single most successful Greek actress since the advent of cinema.
Vougiouklaki is the subject of a new retrospective at the 22nd Greek Film Festival, which is screening five of her most famous films this month in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane (check individual Palace cinema sessions for screening details).
Secretly enrolling in the National Theatre Drama School at the age of 18, Vougiouklaki starred in 42 films and television programs – plus countless stage productions including My Fair Lady and Evita – until her death from pancreatic cancer in 1996 at the age of 62.
She won the first Best Actress prize back in 1960 for the film Madalena, directed by Dinos Dimopoulos, at the first ever Thessaloniki Film Festival.
Laurence Olivier called her portrayal of Eva Perón in the Rice-Webber musical Evita, in 1981, as “the best Evita I have ever seen”. She was an enormous talent, loved by men and women alike.
“For nearly half a century,” writes Port Magazine, “from the 1950s until the 1990s, she was the Greek everything: massively loved and an outrageously versatile film star/theatre diva/singing star/comedienne/sex symbol/nostalgia symbol/national symbol.”
Turns out I needn’t have looked further than my own mother when it came time to researching Aliki Vougiouklaki. When I mention to her I’m writing this article, she tells me Aliki Vougiouklaki was a true icon, whose father and my grandfather were good friends in their village. My mum still has all her original EP records (whose songs I recognise, but didn’t realise it was Vougiouklaki singing them). There is even a photo of my Pappou with Vougiouklaki lying around somewhere – if I ever find it, I’ll be posting it here!
Aliki Vougiouklaki films screening at 22nd Greek Film Festival include:
1. Ace of Spades (1964)
GFF says: “One of the more risqué films ever made by Vougiouklaki – a sexier version of Pygmalion and My Fair Lady.”
Synopsis: Filmed on the island of Rhodes before the arrival of mass tourism, Ace of Spades sees a cunning card shark (Alekos Alexandrakis) enact a plan to dupe wealthy men of their money: use a pretty girl as bait then clean out their bank accounts.
2. Lady And The Tramp (1968)
GFF says: “The Kelly-Astaire style American musical gets a Mediterranean makeover in one of the biggest blockbusters of Greek cinema history. Pocketing the highest payment in Greek cinema history, Vougiouklaki is revealed as a mature cult symbol in this film, albeit an apolitical one, just as the 1967 dictatorship wanted her to be. If anything, the latent social tensions of the time are apparent through a brilliant and suggestive score by Nikos Mamangakis.”
Synopsis: Aliki Vougiouklaki and her then-husband Dimitris Papamichael star in this comic road movie (of sorts), a musical two-hander in which Aliki plays a privileged girl…who finds herself in the unprivileged position of impending marriage to a rich but boring man. She runs away, disguising herself as a boy to hide her identity and meets Lefteris (Dimitris Papamichael), a vagabond who takes the ‘boy’ under his wing.
3. Madalena (1960)
GFF says: “Vougiouklaki sparks again on-screen with Dimitris Papamichael, while commencing a professional love affair with filmmaker Dinos Dimopoulos in arguably her best dramatic performance (earning her the Best Actress gong at the Thessaloniki Film Festival in 1960).” The film was also selected for Official Competition at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival.
Synopsis: In order to support her siblings when her father suddenly passes away, Madalena (Aliki Vougiouklaki) takes over the running of his inter-island ferry business. However, the small and staunchly conservative island community does not approve and they shift their support to the family’s competitor. A heart-warming conundrum of love versus duty, Madalena features stunning cinematography by Walter Lassaly.
4. The Fairy And The Man (1969)
GFF says: “A light rom-com version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the far more scenic island of Crete substituting for Verona. The blockbuster triumvirate of Vougiouklaki, Papamichael and Dimopoulos join forces again in The Fairy and the Man – a flagrant attempt to repeat the mega-success of The Lady and the Tramp. This time round, citizens of Chania are split into two groups – supporters of the Fourtounakis family and supporters of the Vrontakis clan – in a feud that dates back generations.”
5. The Slap That Came From Paradise (1959)
GFF says: “The burgeoning real-life Burton-Taylor romance of Vougiouklaki and Papamichael plucked at the heartstrings of a nation in this To Sir with Love-like tale. Maintaining the same sparkling humour today as it did on its release more than half a century ago, The Slap That Came From Paradise is arguably the film that catapulted a 25-year-old Aliki from actress to national screen idol.”
Synopsis: A young teacher, Floras (Dimitris Papamichael), arrives on campus at an all girls’ high school in Athens. As he attempts to impose some discipline on his unruly class of wealthy and spoilt teens, a battle of wills ensues. The girls employ a range of tactics to get rid of the new guy. With the warring parties at loggerheads, the most undisciplined of all the girls – Lisa (Aliki Vougiouklaki) – begins to fall head-over-heels in love with her teacher nemesis.
The 22nd Greek Film Festival screens in Palace Cinemas this month in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Adelaide in October and November. Check the website for screening details and session info.