Review: Zorba the Greek (1964)

Zorba the Greek


Mihalis Kakogiannis
Mihalis Kakogiannis (Novel: Nikos Kazantzakis)
142 min.
Anthony Quinn, Alan Bates, Ierne papas, Lila Kedrova, Sotiris Moustakas, Anna Kyriakou, Eleni Anousaki, George Voyadjis, Takis Emmanuel, George Foundas
MPAA Rating

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Source Material

Perhaps it’s an old cultural element of Crete, but there are elements of Zorba the Greek that are both infuriating to watch and sad to comprehend. Yet, the film feels somewhat pointless in several aspects. The film centers on a British citizen (Alan Bates) who returns to the isle of Crete in hopes of rebuilding his father’s long-abandoned mining operation. On his way, he means a man named Zorba (Anthony Quinn) intent on traveling with him and doing any tasks he needs done. The reasons are his own and the audience isn’t really privy to them, but Bates agrees and off they go to experience the culture of a small community where everyone leaps at the opportunity to host foreigners, but who also share ignominies and move as a whole in situations that would make most westerners aghast.

The film really has little to do with the mining operation despite being a metaphor for Zorba’s tumultuous, wild and irrepressible life. He moves with such conviction that his actions almost seem justified even if off kilter. He’s a gigolo and an inventor. He lives life to the fullest even if it is to the detriment of those around him. Quinn plays the part well against a strong performance from Bates, the astounding Lila Kedrova as the French hotel mistress and an array of strange and sometimes frightening villagers.

The film seems to take its cues from the French New Wave and Italian Neo-realist periods, trying to focus on the depravity and joyousness of human nature. But it’s also where the film seems to be trying to lose me: how can these people behave the way they do? Seeking revenge for the suicide of a man in love with the beautiful Greek (Irene Papas) who sleeps with Bates; swarming up to complete strangers trying to earn their respect and admiration; or rifling through houses of the dead or almost-dead to take anything they wish. It’s a culture which disturbs me greatly, which may be the entire point of the film. However, it seems completely unnecessary and perhaps a bit of a stretch to fill the film’s two-hour twenty-two-minute length. Aside from the performances and my frustration with the culture, there really isn’t a lot there. But the performances are worth a lot of credit and sometimes being uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing.
Review Written
September 20, 2010

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