Melina Mercouri makes her cinema debut in Stella. Adapted from Iakovos Kambanelis’ theatrical play titled Stella with the red gloves, Stella is directed by Michael Cacoyannis, and features an excellent cast that help create a legendary movie for European cinema. Also written by Michael Cacoyannis alongside Iakovos Kambanelis, the film is dressed by a powerful and memorable soundtrack composed by Manos Hadjidakis and Vassilis Tsitsanis.
The main character, Stella, is a rebetika singer — a type of Greek music that talks about love and death, freedom and honor –all fundamental virtues within Greek culture. She is very Greek, feisty and proud. She is a strong, independent woman in a highly conservative postwar Greece. She works in the bar-restaurant “Paradisos” (Greek word for “heaven”) where she doesn’t waste any time in causing a major fuss; her lifestyle is continuously the talk of the town and her relationships with some of the most desired men in Athens bring on a lot of jealousy from those around her. However, Stella remains faithful to her main guy, Alekos (Alekos Alexandrakis) — at least to begin with — before she feels like he’s trying to deprive her of her freedom and independence. Once she feels that she’s not the master of her own self, she walks away. She stays true to these ideals, even when she meets Miltos (Giorgos Foundas), the macho footballer who, it seems, can only be controlled by someone as explosive as Stella. The peculiar relationship that the two form in the film goes from exciting to tragic and cathartic. A traditional and possessive man is the last thing that Stella could ever handle or even accept — but she’s willing to face the consequences.
Why is Stella a must-see? For many reasons. First of all, because the writer has based the entire film and of course, Stella’s character, on Melina Mercouri, an unbelievable actress representing female strength and independence more than any other artist of that era. Her character is highly theatrical and her life inspires art. Apart from the script and Melina’s amazing performance, Stella is worth seeing for the insight it offers on the postwar city of Athens. Cacoyannis films in natural sets, no studio is used, so a viewer gets to experience the real Greece, the capital’s neighborhoods, the sun and the beautiful lifestyle of a time long gone.
These are only some of the things that led Stella to winning numerous prestigious awards in 1955 and 1956. What adds greatly to this legendary film is Manos Hadjidakis’ soundtrack, filling the movie with some unforgettable rebetika. The authenticity of the movie’s characters and music, as well as the realism in which the story is told adds to everything fantastically. Although developed with a very low budget, Stella’s importance in Greek cinema is truly immeasurable.