Movie Critique Alexis Zorbas

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Antonis Papantoniou
19 November 2009
Anthropology 263g

Alexis Zorbas: the man who has enough fight in him to devour the world. Many film attempts have been made aiming to portray the abundance of life within a man on the cinema screen. One of the most successful ones would be “Zorba the Greek” (1964), directed by Michael Cacoyannis and with Anthony Quinn as the leading role. The plot of the movie originated form the novel “Zorbas The Greek” by Nikos Kazantzakis, that was first published in 1946. The film portrays the culture of the time in Greece, and more specifically the culture of Crete, the largest Greek island, where the plot unfolds. “Zorbas t he Greek” successfully depicts situations of extreme anger, sadness, lust and joy that conquer humans during their course in life. Alexis Zorbas reactions to such feelings define the movie and give the viewers a diachronic sense of admiration and amazement towards the main character. “Zorbas the Greek” is a social drama whose plot focuses in the friendship of Alexis Zorbas, a Greek middle aged man of mysterious past, and Basil, a half-English half-Greek writer who has been raised in Great Britain and has all the characteristics of an edgy, middle-class Englishman. The story begins at the port of Piraeus when Basil is trying to get on a ship to Crete, where he owns some land and an old mine, which he wishes to revive. While in the port, Basil meets Zorbas. Zorbas with a peculiar way attaches himself to Basil and asks him for a job, listing all his “qualifications” from past occupations such as miner, cook and santuri player (Cretan musical instrument). Basil is intrigued by the character of Zorbas and agrees to take him along as his right-hand. Together they arrive at Crete where they stay at an old French widow’s house and later on move in at Basil’s land and start operating the mine. Throughout the story Zorbas is the person in charge of the mine and has several ideas for improving the mining process with the purpose of making more money. Basil seems to trust Zorbas and supports his ideas. But Zorbas ideas and “practical approach” prove disastrous – at the end this “collaboration” leads to the demise of the mine and everything they have worked for. The story ends with the separation of Zorbas and Basil with no hard feelings left behind. Zorbas takes his own way and Basil returns back to London having his character greatly influenced through the experiences he shared with Zorbas in Crete. “Zorbas the Greek” should be seen in the context of the Greek/Cretan history and culture at the time. Crete had just been gained its independence from the Ottoman rule and joined Greece (1913). The French, Russians, Italians and British were generally helping Greece gain its independence from the Ottomans. However Cretans viewed newcomer foreigners as “outsiders” and generally alienated them. Furthermore the citizens of Crete had a notion of self-justice and a sense of self-instituted law. Throughout the film there are several violent events that take place but there is no involvement of police or any form of public officers. Basil, who is considered a “foreigner” despite being half-Cretan, at some point holds a love affair with a lonely young widow (played by Irene Papas). She is brave, beautiful and, most importantly, independent. The men of the village despise her because according to Zorbas “they all want her, but no one can have her”. Such a statement was unheard of in a strongly patriarchic society such as Crete. When this relation between the foreigner and the widow was revealed, a young local boy who loved the widow and was trying to marry her was so devastated that committed suicide. The male population of the village was full of anger and jealousy so it took action. The widow was marked as a traitor and was publically lynched despite the attempts of Zorba to protect her. This incident to the viewer may be seen as meanness and ignorance on the part of the people of...
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