Nikos Papatakis, 1918 - 2010

I've only just now stumbled across the news that the "cinéaste provocateur," as Libération calls him, "friend of Genet, husband of Anouk Aimée, companion to Nico, cabaret owner and Cassavetes producer" Nikos Papatakis died on December 17 at the age of 92. Born in in Addis Ababa to a Greek father and an Abyssinian mother, he "was a soldier in Ethiopia before being forced into exile for having sided with the Emperor Haile Selassie. He fled first to Lebanon and Greece. In 1939, he moved to Paris," where he studied acting and circulated among the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, André Breton, Jacques Prévert, Robert Desnos and Jean Vilar.

From the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in 2005: "Between 1948 and 1955 he managed the literary café 'The Red Rose' the hangout of famous existentialists where artists like Juliette Gréco and Boris Vian debuted. In 1950 he produced his close friend Jean Genet's only movie, Un Chant d'Amour (A Love Song). In 1959, he became the co-producer of John Cassavetes's first movie, Shadows. Occasionally he directed for the theater and he recently published his autobiographical novel Tous les désespoirs sont permis."

Wikipedia: "In 1963, his first film, Les Abysses, enjoyed a 'Succès de scandale' and was entered into the 1963 Cannes Film Festival which refused to show it. It was based on Jean Genet's The Slaves. In 1967, he directed another daring film, Oi Voskoi (The Shepherds). During the Algerian War he was active in the Front de Liberation National. He returned to film in 1987 with a film in Greek, I Photografia (The Photograph). His last film was Walking on a Tightrope (1992)."

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  • David Ehrenstein

    A truly fascinating character. Two of his other important films are “Les Abysses” a drama about the papin sisters scripted by Jean Vauthier and starring Francine and Nicole Berge, and “L’Equilibriste” starring Michael Piccoli as Genet and dealing with the young Arab tightrope-walker he was in love with and created an act for. The boy’s suicide plunged Genet into the deepest despair he’d ever known, that wasn’t alleviated until he visited the Palestinian refuge camps, because friendly with a woman and her children and wrote his final book — his last will and testament as it were — “Prisoner of Love.”

    The documentarey “Nico/Icon” features papatakis and examines his relationship with the elusive junkie goddess and singer/songwriter Nico. She was named after him by Tobias, a German fashion designer who gave Nico her firsr work as a model. Tobias said “Christa” (her real name was “vulgar.” And so he named her after the man he had faled, unrequitedly in love with — Nico Papatakis. Years later Nico met Nico by chance and they became friends. He encourgaed her to become a singer and arranged to have her study at the Actor’s Studio. There was no romantic or sexual involvement between them however.

  • David Hudson

    Heavens, I didn’t know about the extent of the relationship with Nico. Thanks again, David. As for Genet, how frustrated I was this morning to find myself hundreds of kilometers away from my copy of Edmund White’s biography! Thanks for filling in the background.

  • David Ehrenstein

    You’re welcome.

  • Dimitris Psachos

    Whoever believes that Papatakis’ French films are the key films of his cinematic work knows nothing about Niko Papatakis, the Greek, with or without informative trivia. I highly doubt Ehrenstein would even consider his two Greek MASTERPIECES to be of any worth since no Piccoli “fame” acts in them.

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