Alexis Zorbas Film Details
Overview: An uptight English writer travelling to Crete, on a matter of business, finds his life changed forever when he meets the gregarious Alexis Zorba.
Tagline: Life. Lust. Love. Zorba.
Review: “Zorba the Greek” is not only Michael Cacoyannis’ best known work by far, it probably is the most famous Greek movie ever, even more than any of Theo Angelopoulos’ films (arguably the most prominent Greek director, considering that Costa-Gavras mainly directed “international” pictures). It is based on Nikos Kazantzakis’ masterpiece. Despite the immense reputation of both the novel and its author, the movie is even more renowned than the book, thanks to the Greek folklore it exhibits, Mikis Theodorakis’ alluring soundtrack and Anthony Quinn’s performance. Just have a look how many Greek restaurants are called “Zorba” in any part of the world… A POSTCARD GREECE? The title of the original novel is “Life and Times of Alexis Zorbas”. The movie’s title insists on the “Greek” aspect of the main character and hence his environment. Does it mean it constitutes a postcard view of Greece, as it is sometimes considered? To some extent, it appears full of clichés: sun, sea, beach, white village, typical costumes, music, dance, traditions. The place looks like a paradise: * It is almost always sunny while on the continent at the beginning it is raining. * Villagers are welcoming to Zorba and Basil. * We rarely see anything from the outside world, even from the rest of Crete. * Nobody worries about having food or shelter. * The final fiasco of the mine opening is taken lightly. It ends with Zorba and Basil dancing Sirtaki on the beach, a traditional Greek dance that was adapted for the movie. By comparison, the novel’s story continues after that scene, with a bitter tone: the narrator’s closest friend (Stavridakis) dies; the narrator goes away; after a few years he loses contact with Zorba; the latter eventually dies; he bequeaths his cherished instrument (the santuri) to the narrator. In the movie, Basil says he will leave but we do not see it. Insisting on Greek folklore is a deliberate choice since it is only partly present in the novel, and then with greater distance. It is somewhat intended to seduce international audiences: most dialogues are in English (because Basil is an Englishman) whilst in the novel they naturally are in Greek; the four main actors are celebrities and three of them (excluding Irene Papas) are not Greek. However this seducing aspect is only apparent: the movie also adopts the pessimistic view of the novel, written in the midst of World War II and published in 1946. Beneath the surface, the cruelty of human condition and mankind is revealed. * The villagers are poor. * The village idiot is a sad figure. * The young boy commits suicide. * The widow is savagely murdered. * Madame Hortense’s mourners are hypocrites. Her house is looted just after she dies. * Zorba’s comments about people are bleak. * Even children are heartless. Cinematography, with its sharp black and white, illustrates this two-sided vision (easy-going impression versus harsh reality): the bright landscapes and village intensely contrasts with dark costumes and shadows. The effect is striking after the grey tones of the beginning on the continent. Also, in opposition to frequent plain views, some shots emphasise oppression: for instance image is saturated with people when the widow is lapidated. REDUCED DEPTH Nonetheless, despite its ambition, the movie lacks the novel’s philosophical depth. There are many penetrating thoughts in the book, about life, death, soul, love, mankind, religion, history, art, etc. The narrator articulates them intellectually; Zorba voices them in a basic yet astute way. This generates another dimension: the narrator’s transformation. The latter is smart, but Zorba understands more about life than he does: he is close to people, nature, beauty; he teaches him to be in contact with his emotions instead of with his brain, to enjoy life, to give everything he has got. There is an “external” Zorba, simple and lively, and an “internal” Zorba with a compelling insight: he is a witty fool while the narrator is a foolish wit, as Shakespeare would have said. The narrator, who is intellectually trying to find the path of the Buddha, emotionally finds it by his experience with Zorba. Eventually, after finishing his book about Buddha, he logically writes Zorba’s biography. All of this is mostly missing in the movie. Granted, it is not easy to transcribe ideas on screen: a constant voice over would be tedious after a while. However thoughtful dialogues are limited; we do not see Basil’s transformation; Zorba remains simple without much depth. Concerning the last point, the responsibility is partly the director’s, partly Antony Quinn’s who overacts the exuberant side of his role. With limited interesting lines, he still could have shown the “internal” Zorba, by being for instance more mysterious and meditative, instead of fully tilting towards the “external” Zorba. Quinn’s performance is generally deemed outstanding, yet it is only so regarding one part of his character: he seems to miss the full potential of the role and its link with the overall far-reaching message. Lila Kerdova’s performance as Madame Hortense, for instance, is more to the point. Finally, there is some humour in the movie, but not to the extent of the novel where wit frequently mixes with the above-mentioned philosophy. In summary, if “Zorba the Greek” is not as penetrating as the novel, it goes deeper than a postcard view of Greece and remains a valuable piece of art, full of contrasts: white and black, exuberant and intriguing, amusing and tragic.
Country: Greece, United States, United Kingdom
Language: English, Greek
Duration: 142 min
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Also known as: Zorba, o Grego,Alexis Sorbas,Zorba,Zorba the Greek,希腊人左巴,Alexis Zorbas,Grk Zorba,Zorba, el griego,Zorba de Griek,Kerro minulle, Zorbas,Zorba el griego,Zorba il greco,Zorba, a görög,Zorba le grec,Αλέξης Ζορμπάς,Zorba Ha-Yevani,Zorba Grecul,Graikas Zorba,Zorba – O Grego,希臘左巴,Zorba, grækeren,Grek Zorba,Зорба гъркът,その男ゾルバ,Грек Зорба