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Movie Critic Review: Zorba The Greek (1964)

" All right, we go outside where God can see us better." Alexis Zorba
"God has a very big heart but there is one sin he will not forgive; [slaps table] if a woman calls a man to her bed and he will not go. I know because a very wise old Turk told me." Alexis Zorba

 Zorba (Anthony Quinn) with a lascivious look lays the gentle order, 'Two beds Madam. Without bugs!' Mme Hortense defiantly tilts her head and answers proudly, 'Mme has not THE bugs!'

Anthony Quinn

The bookish intellectual Basil 
(Alan Bates) who has appeared unaffected by the collective vertigo experienced on the boat taking them to Crete, did not seem interested in this outward and stimulated first-time exchange between his newly-found companion, a robust natural philosopher named Alexis Zorbas and this old lady who rushed 
Lila Kedrova
to offer them her hospitality services in her own (Marriot) of a dilapidated house on this island of pathos and the poor. Mme Hortense then treats the couple to a spill of vivid grand memories of admirals and revolution "You know how I came to Crete? With the British fleet!" And how she had prevented the bombing of poor little Creteans in past glorious days. Lila Kedrova had just learned enough English to do this part in the movie. It is an absolute pleasure to see her eclipse both Quinn and Bates with her candid and overwhelming performance for which she secured an Oscar for best supporting actress. See the movie clip at the bottom of this post.
"Zorba The Greek" is a movie about attitudes in and passions for life. About a spiritual
union that was almost instantaneous but also life-changing. The moment Basil a foreign writer
arriving in Crete, sets his eyes on this robust Cretean peasant, he feels the upsurge of a life-affirming
effect emanating from the peasant's positive attitude and upfront manner. Basil the bookworm 
learns the simple fact that books do not have specific answers to queries about life or teach 
one how to live in an affirmative way:
Alan Bates
 Alexis Zorba: Why do the young die? Why does anybody die?
Basil: I don't know. 
Alexis Zorba: What's the use of all your damn books if they can't answer that?
Basil: They tell me about the agony of men who can't answer questions like yours.
Alexis Zorba: I spit on this agony!

The tense, self-conscious British writer arrives in Crete to invest
in a mine he has inherited from his deceased father.
Basil and the Widow

He encounters this exuberant native peasant Zorba
who seemed to exude of wisdom and positive 
sentiments. Upon this impression he hires him as a 
foreman for his mine project. 
The couple fare well despite their obviously different
dispositions and in the course of  their brief harmony 
they go through tough life experiences in the island
during which intuitive or at times instinctive solutions 
are carved out by the natural philosopher Zorba.
This harmony allows Basil to accept the losses incurred by Zorba when a contraption 
(the crazy big plan) he built to bring timber down from the high forests to support
the crumbling mine failed and collapsed. Instead of repent for his financial loss,
Basil asks Zorba to teach him how to dance!
The film has several themes (beautiful motifs such as the wailing santouri or the dance
..etc make you rewind!) Themes develop in parallel to the dual relationship of Basil 
and Zorba and enrich the dramatic experience.
The story of the widow (Irene Papas) stands out as a shocking reality in this typically 
tradition-haunted  island. A widow who rejects a younger man from the village with 
dire consequence and is then found to have received (the) total stranger at her place
is doomed. 
Only the village idiot could feel the horror of what the village had done to the widow! 
Only the idiot!
These same villagers later wait on Mme Hortense to die so they could take her belongings! 
The villagers are portrayed both in the novel and in Cacoyannis' adaptation as ungrateful,
cruel and almost inhuman. In a movie purported to celebrate positive attitudes to life
echoes of Greek tragedy might be puzzling to the viewer.

'Zorba The Greek" which was shot in the beautiful although sadness-evoking setting of the island of Crete has four vital components that place it among the best movies ever. It has a good story that is intensified by the existential nature of the questions it raises. This is accompanied by a wonderful sound track from the great Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis who employed popular indigenous instruments to produce catchy and rythmic music. The film is also beautifully shot in black and white which supports the notion of the contrasting natures or inclinations of the writer Basil and his mentor work-mate Zorba
and also punctuates the inherent contrast of the human condition of the 
people of Crete with Zorba's antidotes: music, dance...Play! 
This stunning cinematography won Walter Lassally an Oscar. 
The fourth component to glorify this movie is the mere fact that it's a get-together of giants. 
Every one of the actors, artists and authors mentioned here is in his own right a giant!
"Zorba The Greek" (Original Title Alexis Zorbas)
1964. 142 min. B&W
From the novel by: Nikos Kazantzakis
Adaption And Screenplay: Michael Cacoyannis
Cinematography: Walter Lassally 
Music: Mikis Theodorakis
Directed by: Michael Cacoyannis
Cast: Anthony Quinn (1915-2001) as Zorba.
Alan Bates (1934-2003) as Basil. His other movies include Women In Love, Nijinsky, 
The Fixer (1968), which gave him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Lila Kedrova (1918-2000) as Madam Hortense. Oscar Best Supporting Actress.
Irene Papas as The Widow. Discovered by Elia Kazan. Some of her films: 
"The Guns Of Navarone", "Anne Of The Thousand Days, with Richard Burton",
 "Electra" and "Z".
Note On Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957):

"An essayist and traveller, who translated Shakespeare and Dante to make ends meet, Kazantzakis wrote more than 30 books. His range extended from popular novels such as the Last Temptation of Christ to
The Odyssey: A modern Sequel, an epic poem of 33,333 verses which he rewrote seven times and considered his best work. In 1957 he lost the Nobel Prize for Literature to Albert Camus by one vote. At the two-storey offices of Kazantzakis publications in the heart of Athens, Patroclos Stavrou's daughter Niki, described the "seven continuous years of absolute hell" that the family has endured since the court action began.
"I cannot begin to describe how much vital energy and time was wasted on trying to defend ourselves," says the scholar who directs the company's foreign rights division and is trying to get Kazantzakis' works translated and on bookshelves around the world. "When he was alive Kazantzakis lived under constant persecution from the Greek Orthodox Church and critics. I am sure this [row] would have broken his heart.
A large part of his oeuvre remains unpublished and many of his most important
books are out of print, unavailable even in countries like France where he lived for years."

Note On Michael Cacoyannis:

Director Michael Cacoyannis

Michael Cacoyannis was nominated for an Academy Award five times, a record for any Greek Cypriot film artist. He received Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film nominations for "Zorba the Greek" and two nominations in the Foreign Language Film category for "Electra" and "Iphigenia".
"Stella" is one of his prominent movies. He adapted "Zorba The Greek" by Kazantzakis with some changes. Basil, the intellectual,was originally a Greek student. In the film adaptation he was changed to a British with remote Greek background.

Kedrova's Oscar-Winning Portrayal Of Madame Hortense


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