Greek Zorba - Michael Cacoyannis

Half a Century of Famous Films: Greek Zorba

Michalis Kakogiannis who signed all his films for foreign producers, as well as his most popular film Greek Zorba (1964), as Michael Cacoyannis, was the only internationally acclaimed Greek director and one of the best European directors for more than two decades after the WW II. He was born in Cypress in a respectable family who sent him to England to study law just before the beginning of WW II. During the war he produced a program in Greek for the BBC and from 1945, he worked on his career as a theatre actor. Under the name Michael Yannis, he acted in several plays. Due to the fact that he failed to find producers for his film projects, he returned to Greece in mid 1950’s and began directing films. His first films with topics from contemporary Greek life were well-received, such as Stella (1955) that won the critics’ award in Cannes and the Golden Globe as best foreign film. European critics especially valued his film adaptations of Euripides’ tragedies – Electra (1962), The Trojan Women (1971) and Iphigenia (1977) in which he managed to find good solutions for high-quality transference of Old-Greek tragedies to the film medium by using autonomous forms of stylization of film picture and acting as well as a peculiar rhythm.

However, the general audience loved his film Greek Zorba the most. It was produced in America and based on the great Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis’ (1883-1957) novel. Cacoyannis successfully translated the literary template into a Hollywood film by skillfully combining elements of comedy and melodrama, the picturesque ambiance and the attractive soundtrack by Mikis Theodorakis that relied heavily on Greek folklore. The film won several Oscars: for best supporting actress (Lila Kedrova), black and white cinematography (Walter Lassally) and set design (Vassilis Photopoulos), and was nominated in several other categories: best film, best director and screenplay (Cacoyannis), and best actor (Anthony Quinn). Quinn is brilliant as Zorba, and old Epicurean from Crete who adores life and follows some contemporary version of the Dionysius’ cult that is adapted to fit the patriarchal traditions of a small contemporary Greek town. All that fascinates the newcomer – a young British writer, impressively portrayed by Alan Bates, and allows the director to create an interesting and very entertaining film by portraying the differences of his characters’ culture and upbringing, as well as humorously represented opposites of the primal urges and genuine feelings on one side and frustrations that are imposed by formal decency on the other. (Tomislav Kurelec)