It is, or at least it was, that’s for sure the Greek way of life and also that of Sicily and Tunisia. We could walk through the entire basin of our sea, in the North, South, East and west and we would find in every country, traces of common behaviours and ways of life amid different cultures. For example, we would find the energy to overcome daily obstacles, or in another way, a culinary art that has been used for a long time. Healthy ingredients repeated here and there, as common as the sun that gives life and common as rain that soaks the fields of the various lands that bathes the same sea.
The film over the time
This movie was first celebrated over 50 years ago. Today however, it is still compelling and continues to bear fun and excitement whilst evoking an unusual reaction. It is a movie that has the power to be … a ballet! Yes, you can dance! Thanks to the musical piece that is his leitmotiv, one of the compositions has captivated the public of very different cultures. It is the dance called sirtaki, which we owe to the great Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis. He knew how to capture the appealing energy of his people and in the film, the vivacity of the men and women born in the lands of the old island of Crete. This is where the author of such an admired story was born and where the event took place. Theodorakis knew, no doubt, how to express aged emotions of men and women from so many places of the Mediterranean.
“It is a movie that has the power to be … a ballet! “
But that dance is not as traditional as it might seem because Theodorakis composed it for the film. It was danced like old Zorba (the Mexican actor Anthony Quinn) and the young Basil (the English actor Alan Bates) dance. Quinn, two or three days before the shooting of the famous scene, hurt one of his feet. And thus he adapted the pace, steps and movements to this accident, or so I read some time ago. An obstacle on the set that does not detract by any means the originality of the dance, nor does it forget its roots. On the contrary, it creates an evermore old yet modern musical choreography that is part of the common Mediterranean spirit.
Zorba, beyond the character
With regard to Zorba the Greek, alluring musical chords immediately come to mind which are played by a bazouki, a traditional instrument, creating a spiral of emotions that captures the dancers. It is Zorba that goes beyond the screen and rejuvenates under luminous skies reflected in the waters of our sea. And so the character, also created by the great Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis, actually existed. It was a miner named Georges Zorba, who captivated and even more so impressed the writer, now a hundred years ago, when he met him in a coal mine in the Peloponnese. This is far from the island of Crete where the story of the novel Life and Adventures of Alexis Zorbas, published in 1947, is located.
“the character, created by the great Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis, actually existed”
And fifteen years later, the ancestral and exact wisdom of this man of rare and contradictory benevolence, they say, was universalised by the hand of another Greek: the film director Mikis Kakogiannis. He knew how visually create in such a simple and attractive way for a story that takes place in a small town in Crete. In a rural and poor environment, a culture is formed by primitive and to some degree cruel customs, which are unexpectedly discovered through scenes of the main couple and their transformation. They then try to set up a business that will be disastrous alongside living with a decadent prostitute; the one that is played by the actress of Russian origin Lila Kedrova, who won an Oscar in Hollywood for this character.
Greece in black and white
The story has a light and luminous tone, between vitality and nostalgia. However it also has a dark, almost gloomy aura as it includes a kind of critical parable about the country itself, of what rural Greece was like in the distant sixties when the movie premiered. These are the powerful scenes that Kazantzakis and Kakogiannis created (firstly in the script and later in the film), about primitive masculinity, incapable of respecting the freedom of a young widow. There, the men harassed her to death, in front of the disregarding English foreign character, from the cold lands who did nothing to save her.
Therefore, one hand there are misconceptions and repressed sexual desires, and the other? The moral indifference, expressed by women who will impertinently go from being heartbroken mourners, according to old mortuary practices, to greedy thieves who have seized everything they find in the desolate house of the deceased in which they have just cried. Greece is seen in black and white. Black dominating the dress, according to the ancient Mediterranean custom, and dazzling white in the innocence and exhilarating joy of living.
Nevertheless, it is true about the darkness of the drama, with obvious connotations taken from the classic tragedies of the country. They rise in the end, the two central characters; their relationship of friendship and a growing mutual trust is shown to us. Indeed, it was on the sandy beach where the magic dance of the ancient gods of the disappeared Olympus had already danced.