Irene Pappas stars in this Michael Cacoyannis adaptation of the tale by Euripides

Iphigenia is the third and final entry in Michael Cacoyannis’s cinematic adaptation of three Euripidean tragedies, following Electra and The Trojan Women. Greek actress Irene Pappas (Zorba the Greek) stars in a moving performance as Clytemnestra, the mother to a young woman that must be sacrificed for the good of war. This is serious Greek Tragedy turned into a highly personal family drama, occasionally powerful but often just as pretentious. It was nominated for the 1978 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar as it is in Greek.

Smoothly adapted from the tale by ancient Greek playwright Euripides, Iphigenia is the story of a father torn between obligations to his country and to his daughter. Cursed for slaying a sacred deer, Agamemnon (Costa Kazakos) is told he must sacrifice his beloved daughter Iphigenia (Tatiana Papamoskou) if he wants to lift the curse and receive help from the gods for his ships’ mission to Troy. Distraught but setting things in motion, he deceives his wife Clytemnestra with the news that Iphigenia is to marry the great hero, Achilles. If you are wondering, Cacoyannis does take some liberties with the basics of the original story. This is an adaptation that isn’t slavish to the Greek Tragedy play’s strict format but takes what works for a two-hour drama.

This is a small, intimate historical drama without any action.

Iphigenia is a hard movie to recommend beyond serious lovers of Greek Tragedy. The lavish costume and design production are nice touches but movie audiences today will go in expecting sweeping action and epic battle scenes. This is a small, intimate historical drama without any action. The first hour moves with turgid pacing, dominated by an overwrought performance from Costa Kazakos. Playing an anguished father dealing with the decision to sacrifice his own child, Kazakos offers little subtlety in an overbearing performance better meant for the stage than the screen.

What makes the film bearable is its far more compelling second half, led by Irene Pappas’ moving performance as Iphigenia’s anguished mother. The Greek actress wrests the film into watchable territory as she deals with the situation that her daughter has been placed by Agamemnon. Iphigenia remains pretentious and stuffy in its storytelling, but becomes far more emotionally involving as we near the ultimate fate for the young girl.

It’s possible my dislike of the performance by Costas Kazakos is coloring my opinion, but it drags down Iphigenia as a film. This is certainly not a movie with mass appeal, being schooled in the classics and Greek Tragedy are almost a necessity for getting anything out of Iphigenia. Some will find this a riveting, emotional adaptation, while others will find it a tepid historical drama. Think a swords-and-sandals epic drama without the swords.

Iphigenia Blu-ray screen shot 14


Olive Films has licensed the 1977 movie from MGM and it appears they’ve provided the HD master used on this BD. Going by the soft resolution and dull color saturation, the transfer appears to be an older telecine from serviceable film elements. The 129-minute main feature is shown at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on a BD-25. The 1080P video is encoded in an adequate AVC video encode at less than stellar parameters. This is a flat presentation with ordinary clarity and detail, showing modest improvements in definition.

The film elements used in the transfer are free of debris and generally resemble untouched film stock in good condition. The dated transfer does show some telecine wobble and minor gate weave, but the consistent cinematography highlights a solid contrast and decent black levels.

The picture lacks ultra-fine, high-frequency content but doesn’t look filtered to any degree. Older telecine jobs often have this kind of rolled-off resolution. Color saturation could be improved, the palette has seemingly faded with time. This is simply a softer HD transfer made some years from possibly secondary elements.


The original mono, Greek soundtrack is heard in a fine, if limited, 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack, marked by a minimalist approach with the score. Dialogue is heard in decent quality, though the sound design is kept to a minimum. This is an ordinary recording in fidelity and crispness. It is presented in a fairly dynamic mastering that emphasizes the score’s placement.

Optional English subtitles display in a white font.


There are no special features included by Olive Films.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

  • Iphigenia
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The ancient Greek tale gets an uneven adaptation by Michael Cacoyannis but gets a fine lead performance from Irene Pappas.

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