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An aimless Englishman finds he has a small inheritance on a Greek island. His joyless existence is disturbed when he meets Zorba, a middle aged Greek with a real lust for life. As he discovers the earthy pleasures of Greece, the Englishman finds his view on life changing. Written by
John Vogel <email@example.com>
Nikos Kazantzakis' novels lend themselves to cinematic treatment. Jules Dassin made a great adaptation of "He Who Must Die", and Michael Cacoyannis was equally successful in bringing "Alexis Zorbas" to the screen. Watching this film for a second time puts into perspective a lot of things that escape many a viewer the first time around.
Michael Cacoyannis changed the order of events in the book, as well as Nikos, who he transforms into Basil, the Englishman. The changes are not without merit since all the elements contribute to blend well together in the finished product. The director was fortunate to find such collaborators as Mikis Theodorakis, the genial composer of the music score and Walter Lassally, who photographed the barren area where most of the action takes place. Viewing the film on cable recently, shows Lassally's crisp black and white photography in mint condition.
The film is totally dominated by Zorba, who is a figure larger than life, as he takes Basil under his wing from the start. Anthony Quinn was a perfect choice for playing the title character. Mr. Quinn had worked with other brilliant directors, Federico Fellini, being one of them. It's almost impossible to think of Mr. Quinn as being an American because the magnificent transformation he undergoes here to portray Zorba.
Alan Bates, who is seen as Basil, the Englishman of Greek descent, who is going to Crete to see the family's land and mine. By underplaying Basil, Mr. Bates set the right tone, in sharp contrast with Anthony Quinn's exuberance. Alan Bates, in the end, made perfect sense with the way he played Basil.
Lila Kedrova is another surprise in the film. She is the tragic Madame Hortense, who has lived in the island for quite a while. It's ironic that love always eluded her until she finds in Zorba a reason for keep on living. Irene Papas is equally intense as the widow who is haunted by all the men in town. She has little to say, but just a look from her smolders the screen, be it, for the lust she felt for Basil, or the hatred for the town male population.
Michael Cacoyannis uses these men, as a sort of Greek Chorus, so important in Greek tragedies. The same could be said of the older women of the town who resent the arrivals of strangers. The Greek cast one sees is quite effective in the context of the movie.
"Alexis Zorbas", or "Zorba, the Greek", is a film that will stay with the viewer for quite a while because of what the director accomplished with it.
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