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Illia is Piraeus's most popular person: an energetic prostitute, full of life and good humor. Every day, she swims at the pier, entertaining the dock hands. Sundays she has an open house with food, drink and song. Homer Thrace, an amateur philosopher from Middletown, Conn., arrives in town to find out why Greece has fallen from ancient greatness. He decides Illia is a symbol of that fall, so he sets out to study and to save her. Unknown to Illia, he gets the money for the books and all else he gives her from Mr. No Face, the local vice boss who wants Illia retired because her independence gives other whores ideas. Whose spirit is stronger: Homer's classical ideal or Illia's?Written by
Hollywood blacklist Jules Dassin's Greek comedy, starring his future wife and muse Mercouri, which was a sensational success, acquired 5 Oscar nominations (including BEST DIRECTOR and LEADING ACTRESS, with one win for BEST SONG, the titular NEVER ON Sunday, a record- breaking first-time for a foreign movie). The story is a variation of the Pygmalion, a delectable tug- of-war between a golden-heart Greek prostitute's free spirit and an amateur American philosopher's attempt to save her from the oldest profession.
Ilya (Mercouri), a sought-after prostitute lives in the port of Piraeus, who exerts her own volition instead of the highest bid when comes to choose her customer, she meets Homer (Dassin), an American tourist, the scholar type, who clashes with denizens in a bar brawl on grounds of baffling cultural disparity, and reeks of the superior Western morality to persuade Ilya from doing what she does best, Homer is seeking for the truth in the cradle of culture, and immediately correlates Ilya with the fall of the Ancient Greece, it is beyond his understanding why such a marvel of beauty could be so content with her debased occupation. Through their entanglement, especially their vastly contradictory interpretations about Greek tragedy, they agree to try out a tentative plan, Ilya stops receiving her patrons and Homer educates her with literature and philosophy, but a less convincing plot-device eventually would set her back to her larger-than-life spirit, Homer's experiment fails miserably, just one time, a prostitute doesn't need salvation, her Greek blood renders her unbridled exuberance and spontaneity, that's something no education can alter, like her passionate romance with local worker Tonio (Foundas)
This Black-and-White picture is a winsome culture-clashing curio, Mercouri unleashes her divine charisma which infatuates not just Homer and her regular clientèle, also us, wide-eyed viewers as well, her personification as the object of passion, a magnificent force-of-nature defies all the earthly categorization, eventually becomes an invitation card for people to visit her enchanting motherland; to that effect, Dassin sacrifices her character for bookish caricature, utters "Ilya, you are a Greek, you must be logical, since it is established by Aristotle" and a devoted second fiddler for Mercouri to hog the limelight entirely. Behind the camera, Dassin is bent on infusing a thumping pulse of vivacity to the not-so-original script, influences a well-calculated balance between exotica and erotica. Fairly speaking, the settings of its characters are reasonably behind our time, and the arc of Ilya's transition is done perfunctorily, otherwise, the appreciation could have been higher by a new wave of audience.
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