"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.
on January 8, 2007
Basil (Alan Bates), a somewhat boring Englishman that also happens to be a writer, goes to Crete in order to take charge of small inheritance. In his journey to that island he meets Zorba (Anthony Quinn), a Greek that is his polar opposite. Zorba is temperamental, and acts before thinking, enjoying life at it fullest with no regard for the consequences.
Circumstances, and Zorba's wish to earn some money, join this two men. Their interaction is something to be enjoyed as we watch "Zorba the Greek" (1964) once and again. Of course, the scenery is beautiful, and the music outstanding, but the real magic of this film is that it shows you what really good actors can do with a great script, and a director that knows what he is doing.
This film has hilarious scenes, but also others so dramatic that you will literally feel the pain of the characters. And of course, the ending is nothing less than perfect.
On the whole, I believe that this film is an excellent example of a true classic. Enjoy it.
Since I am leaving today for a trip to Greece I figured I should watch "Zorba the Greek" since this 1964 film is considered the quintessential "Greek" film. I have to admit my first reaction was to be glad I was not going to Crete, because the way the locals treated the beautiful widow (Irene Papas) and Madame Hortense (Lila Kedrova), the old prostitute, were outright horrific. But this is why people like us and young Basil (Alan Bates) need to meet up with somebody with a zest for life like Alexis Zorba (Anthony Quinn).
Basil is an Englishman of Greek extraction who goes to Crete to check out a mine he has inherited. Zorba attaches himself to Basil, ostensibly as a cook but clearly as a guide to the joys and tragedies of life. In terms of Quinn's performance the only thing you can really say is that before there was Robert Begnigni there was Zorba the Greek when it comes to Mediterranean men who provided inspirational madness. As Zorba tells Basil: "Dammit, boss, I like you too much not to say it. You've got everything except one thing. Madness! A man needs a little madness, or else...he never dares cut the rope and be free." +
When they arrive on Crete it becomes clear the mine is not going to pan out for anybody. They move in with Madame Hortense, who is wooed by Zorba, who insists Basil go after the beautiful local widow. After these tragedies all that is left is Zorba's plan for bringing trees down from the top of the mountain, an endeavor obviously equally doomed to failure. This is why in the end there is only one thing a man can do, and it is in this cathartic conclusion that any and all sins of this film are absolved.
"Zorba the Greek" is written and directed by Michael Cacoyannis, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. The film won three Academy Awards: Lila Kedrova for Best Supporting Actress, Best Art/Set Direction, and Best Cinematography. Quinn did not win the Oscar for what is clearly his most memorable role in a long and distinguished film career, but that is usually the case with actors and their greatest roles. Marlon Brando did not win for Stanley Kowalski and Quinn did not win for Alexis Zorba. What is a man to do in the face of such a fate but dance?
on March 22, 2002
I'm puzzled by the previous reviewer who gave Zorba low marks because it failed to present life on the island of Crete as some kind of feminist utopia. In fact, Zorba is an amazing film BECAUSE it refuses to sugar-coat what was the hard reality for women in rural Greece - which is in fact, the hard reality for women in many rural, non-industrialized nations. (Greece was not industrialized at the time Kazantzakis wrote the original novel on which the film is based.) In fact, it would have been a betrayal of women everywhere to sugar-coat the discrimination these particular women faced.
Yes, life in Zorba's universe is incredibly brutal, and the fate of the young widow whose only crime was to reach out bravely to a sympathetic fellow human being, well, it's one of THE essential tragedies of this film. (Besides the tragedy of a man like Zorba who has survived fighting the Turks, only to be scarred by his own memories and regrets.) The film is brutal because life for these people (men AND women) truly was brutal. To present it as otherwise would be inexcusable. That there are moments of exultant joy in the midst of so much tragedy is the genius of Kazantzakis - and of Cacoyannis and his cast.
Who could fail to appreciate the courage and dignity of the young widow, played hauntingly by the austerely beautiful Irene Pappas? (She's also heartbreaking in the political thriller "Z.") Anthony Quinn is wonderful as Zorba, and Alan Bates his perfect counterpart, but Irene Pappas is the woman you can't forget. The tragedy of the old French courtesan is yet another important way in which this film refuses to sugar-coat the cruelty of Greek village life in the first half of the 20th century.
Amid this difficult environment, Zorba's essential lesson is that one must live and somehow find meaning and pleasure. The offended reviewer below states that the moral is "To attempt to find freedom results in death, and living a traditional life is a living death." True, Zorba defies tradition, and battles conformity, and this is a good lesson. And he is honest in showing us that the attempt to find freedom involves great risks (certainly the young widow risks everything in her quest for freedom, and Zorba, in trying to protect her, takes his own risks), but that we must try.
This movie is unforgettable, but it's not for anyone who doesn't understand the essential role of tragedy, or who insists that films follow some kind of utopian script. At the end of the film, amid their colossal failures, Alan Bates begs Zorba, "Teach me to dance!" After fighting and losing, what else can one do but dance? Or at least try...
on September 14, 2002
This 1964 film is has a lot going for it. Mostly, it's because of Anthony Quinn's outstanding performance as a middle-aged Greek drifter. He's brings the ultimate joy of living to the role, in which he shows a reserved Englishman what the essence of life is all about. "You have to be a little mad," he says, and he surely demonstrates this. He works hard, he loves women, he constantly philosophizes about life and he dances. I immediately loved the character and wanted to identify with him. There is beauty is what he says and passion in every one of his actions.
Lila Kedrova is also great in a supporting role that won her an Academy Award. She plays an aging French woman who runs the hotel in Crete where Quinn and the Englishman, played by Alan Bates, go to work a mine that Bates has inherited. She is sad, funny and flirtatious all at the same time, and my heart went out to her plight. Quinn romances her and I could understand the relationship between these two people who both live their lives to the fullest.
The film has a message. And that is to find joy in life. It's a good message and that's why this film is a classic.
However, I can't understand why it was filmed in black and white. If ever a film needed color, this one did. And even though Irene Pappas is given star billing, her time on the screen, as the widow who appeals to the Englishman, is very little. I found her performance rather wooden as I did the performance of Bates. But, after all, that was the role Bates was cast in. Pappas should have been stronger.
I was disturbed by the basic story, which depicted some terrible cruelty by the townspeople. And the Englishman's role of just standing by and doing nothing, even though he was the cause of much of it, was disappointing. Bates' expression mostly stayed the same throughout it all, that of being overwhelmed. And his face showed no acknowledgment of the horror.
I still recommend this film however - if only to see Quinn at this best. And to try to grasp the essence of life that Zorba the Greek tries to impart.
on November 27, 2003
Says Basil as he declines the opportunity to persue a beuatiful woman who has thrown a meaningful glance at him. After all, she's a Greek who doesn't speak a word of English, he's in a foreign land and perhaps he's reading too much into her look and---
Whereupon Zorba cuts him off with the classic: " What do you mean you don't want trouble? What is life but to take of your belt and go looking for trouble! "
Besides, as Zorba further enlightens him, God, who is very merciful, will forgive many sins. But there is one sin He will not forgive: When a woman calls a man to her bed and he will not come . . .
Anthony Quinn plays Zorba, a man who lives through tragedy by women, dance, music and madness. He has surrendered to all the beauty and horror of life and embraces whatever comes his way.
Alan Bates plays Basil, the bookish and reserved Brit who becomes both Zorba's boss and unwitting pupil after an accidental meeting brings them together during a storm on the way to Crete.
This is the simple premise which sets up one of the greatest novels and greatest films of the century, Nikos Kazantsakis's most popular work; "Zorba the Greek"
Quinn and Bates are phenomenal. Never better. The supporting cast is also superb. Perfect casting, subtle directing and a wonderful musical score.
The plot revolves around Bates trying to get an abandoned coal mine in the backwoods of Greece to produce. He's inherited it and if he can't make a go at it, then it's back to dreary old England and writing essays for a living.
Zorba, whose nickname is 'catastrophe' becomes his foreman. They interact with a young widow, an aging French hotel keeper--who was once a great beauty, and villagers that are straight out of the Dark Ages.
"Interact " is a weak word. Both heaven and hell breaks loose in this gripping tale.
It's a paean to lunacy. To the necessity to be 'a little mad' in order to find the courage to break the chains that bind us.
A forgotten gem. Told with savage humor and great compassion. Another sacrament of the cinema.
on March 13, 2001
It seems that in every top actors career there is one role that will define their greatness and seal their place in flim history. George C. Scott as Patton, Al Pacino in 'The Godfather', Richard Dreyfuss in 'The Goodbye Girl', and so on. Anthony Quinn forever made his mark as 'Zorba' and Quinn, a half-Irish Mexican did more for the legend of Greek machismo than all the black suited men on the whole island of Crete.
In the film Alan Bates is a half-Greek Englishman and essayist suffering from writers block. To find himself and search for the spirit of his lost father he heads for Crete to open a dormant lignite mine left to him by his late dad. In the harbor before shipping out he meets Zorba and decides to take him along for the ride.
Soon however we realize that it is the other way around as the freewheeling Zorba teaches our man about love, life, and helps him mix with the people of the earth. The classic quotes that flow from Zorba's lips are far too numerous to mention and the enjoyment you'll get from watching Zorba look life in the eye and say, 'Come on, I dare you!' at every turn is too great to describe. The ups and downs of the human experience and the triumphs and travails of romance and friendship are perfectly preserved in this masterpiece.
on December 30, 2003
I watched this movie with great expectation. I first came across Zorba in a book of Osho. I must say that movie does not disappoint. The message of the movie is quite clear "be a bit crazy, don't take life too seriously", And I agree with that completely. Drink, eat and be merry. But the problem with this approach start getting clear as you watch, and it is here I think the movie or the thought behind the movie lacks.
How long one can avoid the question of his own existence, his identity. In this regards I like Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse which I think is an extension of Zorba.
Be like Zorba, but be aware the life demands more than.
Just add enlightenment to Zorba and you will get what Osho once called "Zorba the Buddha". That could be the best possible synthesis of a human being. Remember Mr. Zorba we need to have a heart towards other as well. Highly recommended!!
on March 29, 2001
I just learned last night that Kazantzakis' novel was based on his own experience -- when he inherited some old mine and set off to operate it, and ran into Zorba along the way.
Zorba is such a powerful and fascinating character that he seems to embody the force of life itself. Certainly, we rarely see such vibrantly living characters on the big silver screen. This is a film that will live forever, so let's see it on DVD soon!! It would be a great item for the Criterion Collection (hint hint!)
This was certainly the part of a lifetime for Anthony Quinn. Superb story, fantasic characters, and music to make you want to get up and dance!
A surprising parallel story is the meeting of Jalaladdin Rumi with a 60-year-old dervish named Shams-e Tabrizi. Look into it if you find this movie interests you.
on August 17, 2001
"A man needs a little madness." - Alexis Zorba. And so is the tale of a seemingly crude and boorish man, or that may be the manner in which he is viewed by those very people Zorba would never want to be. Living with every emotion on his sleeve, Zorba watches a young struggling writer working restoring a mine with him open like a an emotional flower under his careful "tutelage" which revolves around dancing in joy and sorrow, living life every single minute and never fearing the inevitable ending of life. (How's that for a run on sentence? Ah, but it is the Greek way!). This film is simply wonderful and I am surprised it isn't shown more often in its entire form. I feel Zorba, like so many of our old favorites, should have a re-release on the big screen. We have forgotten how to live like this.