In a career that spanned almost forty years, Tzeni Karezi was one of the finest actresses of Greek film and theater. An Athens native, Karezi had highly educated parents, where her father was a mathematician and her mother was a high school teacher. Due to the fact that she studied in a private French school in Thessaloniki, Karezi gained a fluent command of the French language.
In 1951, Karezi was accepted into Greece’s prestigious “Ethniko Theatro” where she studied drama, under the direction of playwright Aggelos Terzakis and director Dimitris Rontiris. She graduated drama school in 1954 and commenced her stage career, where she starred opposite renowned actors such as Alexis Minotis and Katina Paxinou.
Karezi’s stage debut commenced in the French comedy, “La Belle Helene” [which translates into “The Beautiful Helen”], opposite acclaimed actors Melina Mercouri and Vassilis Diamantopoulos. Throughout her stage career, Karezi starred in the works of famous playwrights such as Miller, Tolstoy, William Shakespeare, as well as distinguished Greek writers such as Dimitris Psathas, Fotiadis and Iakovos Kambanellis.
A stunning Greek beauty, Karezi’s cinematic debut commenced in 1955, where she played Kaiti in the comedy “Laterna: Ftoheia kai Filotimo,” which received rave reviews from critics, similar to its 1957 sequel “Laterna: Ftoheia kai Garifallo.”
In the 1959 film “To Nisi Ton Genneon,” which translates into “The Island of the Brave,” Karezi, dressed in an elegant dress and backed by an orchestra, performs a soaring rendition of the Manos Hajidaki tune “Min Ton Rotas Ton Ourano.” Her vocal talent was also noteworthy in the 1961 film “Poia Einai H Margarita,” filmed in the island of Kos, where she performs the classic “H Margarita H Margaro,” while riding on a bicycle.
Karezi’s most successful film was the 1963 “Ta Kokkina Fanaria,” directed by Vasilis Georgiadis, which was a box office success in its native Greece. Furthermore, the film garnered a “Golden Palm” nomination at the Cannes Film Festival [the highest prize awarded for films nominated in the competition], and garnered a nomination for the coveted Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, which turned Karezi into a global superstar.
As she was filming the 1967 motion picture “Concerto gia polyvola” and starring in the lead role of “Niki,” Karezi met her significant other in life, director Kostas Kazakos, and they married a year later in 1968. Karezi and Kazakos had a son together who is a successful Greek actor in his own right, Konstadinos Kazakos.
Kazakos and Karezi formed a powerful acting duo, and even produced many complex plays together. One of these plays was in 1973 entitled “To Megalo Mas Tsirko” which translates into “Our Big Circus,” which was a humorous target towards the Greek dictatorship at the time; this play resulted in Kazakos and Karezi spending several nights in jail.
In 1971, Karezi gave a stellar and mesmerizing performance as the eponymous role in “Manto Mavrogenous,” a Greek heroine of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Karezi was able to capture the conscience of the brave heroine, in a bold, unflinching portrayal where Mavrogenous, was an aristocratic woman who gave everything she had to help Greece gain freedom from the Turks. This film is a classic, destined to stand the test of time, which is played regularly on Greek television stations, especially in the month of March each year, around the time of Greek Independence Day.
Karezi’s final appearance in film was in the leading role of the 1972 film, Lysistrata [based on the play by Greek comic playwright Aristophanes]. This film was honored with the “Best Production” prize at the 1972 International Thessaloniki Film Festival.
In the years ahead, Karezi went on to produce and star in many challenging roles such as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” as well as eponymous roles in ancient Greek tragedies “Medea” in 1985 and “Electra” in 1987.
Many fans and peers alike, consider Karezi to be the biggest rival of famous Greek actress Aliki Vouyiouklaki; however, the two actresses were indeed dear friends and had equal success and garnered substantial popularity along the way.
Karezi’s final stage appearance was in 1990 in the Greek play “Diamonds and the Blues” by Loula Anagnostaki, at a crucial time in Karezi’s life when she was fighting breast cancer.
Alas, Tzeni Karezi passed away on July 27, 1992, after many years of battling the terminal illness of breast cancer; however, her work in Greek films will live on forever. Her funeral featured a plethora of Greek fans and peers who admired her work. As a result of her death, her family founded the “Tzeni Karezi Foundation,” in an effort to benefit the people who suffer the detrimental effects of cancer and ease their pains at the final stages of their lives.