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Olympia Dukakis: 1931-2021

The moment that I will remember Olympia Dukakis for the most part comes at the end of “Dreamer. Her character asks her daughter if she likes the man she’s with and gets an enthusiastic yes. The answer? “Oh my God, it’s a shame,” with perfect weariness. His performance makes the whole movie work. “Moonstruck” is a decidedly romantic film, in love with love but with a granite clarity of the bitterness it can bring. The disasters love can bring on you are everything from losing a husband too soon to losing a husband through an affair. There’s a slew of great performances in the movie, but Dukakis’ hurt but not bitter matriarch is the cast’s secret MVP, the role that keeps it all together.

Dukakis’ career was like this, providing a vital part of a whole that uplifted and maintained the work of others. Beginning in theater in New York, she went from stage to cinema to television and back again. After winning an Oscar for “Moonstruck”, she continued to work until her death. It was a career of substance and not of flash, and which reveals all that is lost only on reflection.

It was also a career that saw some of its richest rewards in his later life. Fifty years old when she won the Oscar for “Moonstruck”, she continued to play older women of the type usually overlooked at the peril of the listeners, whose ardor is matched only by their tenacity in music. friendship like Claire in “Steel magnolia trees. “

But it’s his Rose in “Moonstruck” that I keep coming back to. Her heartache over her husband’s wandering eye is not presented as part of the film’s comedy, but as a deep betrayal of trust. In one of the best scenes in the movie she dines with John mahoney, a younger brother whom she saw romanticizing several women. The stage is a double of great actors who play each other brilliantly. She skillfully taps every apology for his behavior, and her “that’s the way men are” bluster. They leave and return home, and part of the viewer wants them to spend the night together in a justified turnaround, it’s fair play for the way her husband treated her. But she gives Mahoney a firm good night and with one of the best lines, and it’s all in the delivery of Dukakis, “I can’t invite you because I’m married, because I know who I am.”

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It is more than just a puritanical moral to be the best person. Rose is wise enough to know that having an affair for revenge won’t make her happy. What she wants more than anything is the feeling of happiness in a secure relationship. And she knows herself well enough not to go wrong with anything less.

That’s why the phrase “Oh my God, it’s a shame” when her daughter tells her that she loves the man she left her fiancée for is so funny and so painfully poignant. That taking the risk of a great romance is taking the risk that your heart will break in the end. But not to risk this evil was to live a life deprived of its fullness.

His characters from the mother of the family chosen in the television series “Tales of the City” to the widow devoted to a fault in “The Cemetery Club»Lived lives of high hopes and disappointments. They created their own problems as easily as they could solve everyone else’s. But they were never less than real and alive, and they were all in the gestures and tenacity that Dukakis brought to them.

American films are poorer because they have fewer and fewer seats for roles like this. And his loss is felt all the more since American films believe in the ability of actors to be at the center of the screen, their troubles just as exciting as a wall of special effects. But, for now, there is the comfort of the working body, and the rare quality of giving a great performance while ensuring that no one is left behind.

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