English Title: Zorba the Greek
Original Title: Alexis Zorbas
Country: USA, Greece
Language: English, Greek
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Director: Mihalis Kakogiannis
Music: Mikis Theodorakis
Cinematography: Walter Lassally
George P. Cosmatos
A built-in defect of this film adaption from the source novel ALEXIS ZORBAS by Nikos Kazantzakis is its utterly invidious treatment of its female characters, indisputably it was more acceptable in a male-chauvinistic backwater when it was released in the 60s (a 7 Oscar-nominations including BEST PICTURE, DIRECTOR, LEADING ACTOR for Quiin and SCREENPLAY with 3 wins), but it sheerly renders its modern-day audience a mouthful taste of misogyny and xenophobia, to which director Kakogiannis uncompromisingly adhere.
What makes me more ill-at-ease is the egregious nonchalance projected afterwards by their male counterparts, after the shocking demise of the widow (Papas, the author even doesn’t bother to give her a name), our young half-Greek-half-British protagonist Basil (Bates) has no remorse of his inadvertent complicity in it and never even care to contest on her behalf; as for the forlorn Madame Hortense (Kedrova in her Oscar-crowning role), her beloved “husband” Zorba (Quinn) leaves her cold body on the deathbed after a fiendish loot conducted by the village people (initiated by a few local crones), he has no motivation to bury her and let her rest in peace for the sake of their liaison, even though we all know it is a miserable one-sided infatuation, it is outrageously despondent.
Anyway, if one can abide all those random grouse, the film is a competently dazzling piece of work by Cyproit director Kakogiannis, a less glamorous rigmarole compared with David Lean’s A PASSAGE TO INDIA (1984), it is in the 1930s, a young English writer Basil visits Crete for his inheritance on the island, he encounters a larger-than-life outgoing middle-age Greek, Zorba, who volunteers to work for him and assists him in starting a mining quarry on his inherited lot, the two form a close bond meanwhile their embroilment with two widows on the island sour the Cretan hospitality of the native inhabitants, things turn uglier than one can anticipate (on a premise one doesn’t familiar with its novel).
Zorba, a cimbalom player (called Santouri in Greece), a character exuberant with lust for life, the living-in-the-moment sort, an illiterate but knows to address “with your permission” when prying into his boss’ private affairs, Quinn’s English is somewhat too proficient in context, but his effervescence effectively galvanises the bleak conditions, he plays boisterous pranks on the monks of monastery and materialises his creative idea of transporting limber from the mountain to their land, he is an emblem of complete freedom, but as a person, he is a deadbeat libertine, Quinn’s performance is headstrong but persuasive. On the contrary, Bates’ Basil is bookish, genteel and even effeminate when put opposite with Zorba, if he is more or less a proxy of the author himself, he barely motivates anything, he observes, takes the advantage of being a foreign on a primal island, one time he dares to follow his heart, tragedy ensues, both characters are not as likeable as they appear to be.
Kedrova brings out two sides of Madame Hortense’s life track, balancing her “stop the boom-boom” French foxiness with her latter compassion-inducing despair, helplessly living in her wish fulfilment. Papas, with scarce lines, delivers her powerful resentment superbly albeit it is damaged good in its conception, like Madame Hortense, women are men’s appendages, this undertone is as vicious and dangerous as the macabre barbarism, all stink of passé values spiked with unfulfilled loathsomeness accumulated through one’s own personal path.