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A man needs a little madness, or else... he never dares cut the rope and be free
on February 22, 2007
"Zorba the Greek" is one of those magical, bittersweet movies that reminds you what living should really be about. Not existing, but LIVING.
Anthony Quinn created a vibrant, lovable personality that leaps off the screen in every scene, and he rules the movie as its trickster god. Though "Zorba" reminds viewers that life can be unfair and bitter, it can also be full of joy, love, fun and simple pleasures. It's hard not to have some happy tears when this film finally ends.
Stuffy, prissy, uptight Basil (Alan Bates) is journeying to Crete to take care of his inheritance, some land and mines. On the way, he meets the scruffy, earthy Alexis Zorba (Anthony Quinn), who volunteers to be Basil's all-round sidekick ("I like you... take me with you!"). Basil can't exactly say no, especially since he is as different as can be from the native Cretans. In fact, he sticks out like a sore thumb all the time.
But Zorba has more than music and soup to offer. His gusto for life is all about women, wine and general joie de vivre, but he also hides secret pains in his past. And he introduces Basil to a beautiful, tragic young widow, an aging prostitute with a sad past, and the beauties of Crete itself. With Zorba to guide him, Basil finds out how to really live.
The setting is the stark, primal beauty of Crete -- lots of dusty, stony roads, mountains full of gnarly trees and cruelly beautiful landscapes. It's reflected in the heartless behavior that small communities sometimes have (such as the poor widow), but it's also a backdrop against which the simple pleasures of life (through Zorba) can shine the brightest.
Director/writer Michael Cacoyannis got two Oscar nominations for this movie, and it's not hard to see why. He made the dialogue quirky in a realistic way ("What kind of man are you? Don't you even like DOLPHINS?"), and let the story unfold in a natural, sometimes bittersweet way. The only problem is the way in which all the main women in the story end up.
Zorba is one of those really magical movie characters -- he laughs, drinks, weeps, dances, and worries about his crazy brain. He's an impish figure like a trickster god with no real harm in him. Even a collapsing mine shaft can't keep him down -- he just walks out and curses the mountain ("I'll eat your guts!"). Alan Bates is the ideal counterpart, as a repressed, bookish little Englishmen who starts to realize that propriety is overrated.
"Life is trouble. Only death is not," sums up "Zorba the Greek," an enchanting look at how to enjoy your life. It's a memorable, lovable little movie, and a deserving classic.