Sunday, February 20, 2011

Genevieve Bujold as Cassandra in The Trojan Women (1971)

I knew there was a performance I was forgetting in my Totally Awesome Performances post. It's Genevieve Bujold as literature's favorite psychic nut-job, Cassandra, in Michael Cacoyannis's 1971 film The Trojan Women. Silly me.

Appropriately enough, I saw this film in a college class on world literature when I was a freshman. An ambitious subject for a class, huh? While we didn't manage to read every single great piece of literature from every single corner of the globe, we did manage to read Euripides's Women of Troy. While I liked it and respected its message like a good little freshman with literary pretensions should, the play never came alive for me until I saw it acted out. Which I hear is quite true with most Greek Dramas, since that was their whole point, hurr.

Critical accolades abound for the great Kate Hepburn as Hecuba in the film (and play's) starring tole, and for Vanessa Redgrave's bleak and statuesque Andromache. But because this great, eerie little film does have "Women's Lit" written all over it, it's not really relished today like other classics.

A cryin' shame for poor Ms. Bujold.

In the midst of all those greats, she's the standout for me. One of the qualms I have with the movie is that in Edith Hamilton's translation we lose much of the mythological elements, the allusions to the gods--including leaving out a prologue with cameos from such guest stars as that brainy dame Athena and her wet, wacky uncle Poseidon. I know bringing them in would seriously hamper the film's realism, the "this-is-really-what-happens-after-a-war-ravishes-a-country-and-its-women" thang Cacoyannis was going for. But a little supernatural pizazz might not have hurt the film's sometimes lagging energy, and might have given it an even eerier boost.

This eerie boost is only truly present, I think, in Bujold's Cassandra. Her first scene remains vivid in my mind, though I saw it now almost five years ago. While the action up to this point has taken place out in the blaring sunlight of Troy's ruins, with shell-shocked-before-there-were-shells women wandering numbly about emitting low moans, Cacoyannis takes us into a dark cave to meet Cassandra. She's wielding a torch, and her flashing dark eyes are...well, they're kinda mad. I guess you don't really need a lot of mythology to appreciate Bujold here, since it might be overkill: we can readily imagine without godly embellishment that her madness could be inhuman.

While it cuts me to the quick to disagree with my bestest gal pal Polly Kael, I, well, disagree with her when she says that while Bujold is riveting, her performance "doesn't quite come off." What I will agree with is that it's at total variance with the rest of the movie's tone and characterizations. She's vibrant and sizzles in the lens, when everyone else is morbidly stoic. When Redgrave breaks down, she's brilliant and gives one shudders because she's so real; however, what I like about Bujold is how stylized and unreal she appears. Her movements and histrionic speeches are theatrical, yes--but not of a theater we're used to like The Old Vic. But more like some groovy, bohemian, indy beatnik java house on another planet in the galaxy of the super-deranged.

I guess when push comes to shove, my tastes run more toward the distinctive than the realistic. That's not to knock the other performers, like Redgrave--hell no would I criticize her. But Bujold is what remains with me, and if I read one more Voyager fan berating her scrapped scenes during her failed bid to play Captain Janeway, I swear I'll morph into a mad seeress and curse Apollo for man's folly.


  1. Love Bujold. Love Voyager. What little she did as Janeway is fine. Fantasy would be Bujold and Mulgrew together for an episode.

  2. Those two onscreen would indeed be quite the coup, although admittedly I've never really watched that much Voyager. But how cool would it have been if Bujold played some sort of villainous alien matriarch on an episode, battling wits and photon torpedoes with Mulgrew? That would have been electric.