Here is an amazing collection of the most influential greek movies, from 1946 until 1984.
Zorba The Greek (1946)
Director Michael Cacoyannis
This movie turned Anthony Quinn into a Greek forever. Based on the book by Nikos Kazantzakis (which should be read by everyone who feels that life is passing them by) it also stars Alan Bates whose character has inherited a lignite mine somewhere in Crete and meets the free-spirited Alexis Zorba in a cafeneon in Pireaus. Zorba convinces Bates to hire him to run his mine. Filmed in black and white the movie documents a Greece that has almost completely disappeared, (with the exception of the villages my wife takes me to keep me out of trouble). With an inspiring soundtrack by Theodorakis (the best work he has ever done) and the greatest performance of Anthony Quinn's career this is another movie that must be seen, and not only once.
Director Michael Cacoyannis
Director Michael Cacoyannis (Zorba the Greek, 1964) is perhaps the most well-known Greek filmmaker in the English-speaking world; he studied theatre in Britain before returning to Greece in 1953 to make his feature film debut, Windfall in Athens (1954). Stella followed – a story as influenced by Italian neorealism as it was classical Greek tragedy. Stella (Melina Mercouri) is a free spirit being bludgeoned into a marriage with a football player whom she loves, but does not want to commit to. Mercouri sparkles as the alluring and strong-willed Stella, unbending to outside interference. Her determination and joie de vivre could easily stand in for the will of the imperilled nation, but if that is the case, the fate that awaits her does not prove optimistic.
O Drakos (1956)
Director Nikos Koundouros
Nikos Koundouros’ film is all Dutch tilts à la Carol Reed and compositions with a Weegee-style urban flair. In other words, this is essentially a Greek film noir. The English title is ‘The Fiend of Athens’, referring to a notorious gangster. Thomas, the unfortunate protagonist (Dinos Iliopoulos), is the gangster’s doppelgänger – inspiring a city-wide case of mistaken identity. But the mild-mannered everyman soon realises being mistaken for a criminal kingpin has its benefits. Morally murky and memorably tragic, O Drakos has been consistently voted the number one Greek film of all time by the Hellenic Film Critics’ Association.
The Ogre of Athens (1956)
Director Nikos Koundouros
The tragedy, The Ogre of Athens, is a story about mistaken identities and fatal mistakes. A man (Dinos Iliopoulos) is misidentified as a notorious killer called ‘’The Dragon.” Throughout the film, the man attempts to conceal himself from the police and the public eye in order to survive New Year’s Eve. The first Greek film noir is an exemplary movie. It has been called The Citizen Kane of Greece because of its magnificent use of light and its terrific direction. What really dazzles the audience, however, is the mesmerizing performance by primary character, Dinos Iliopoulos; he is considered to be the best actor in Greece. This well-crafted thriller successfully combines German expressionism with Italian neorealism—a juxtaposition that leads to the movie’s deft tone. This film is an admirable example of breathtaking cinematography and proves the director’s Nikos Koundouros passion for stylistic aesthetics. The Ogre of Athens is undoubtedly a monument to Greek cinema.
Never on Sunday (1960)
Director Jules Dassin
Best-known for urban noir classics such as Night and the City (1950) and Rififi (1955), Jules Dassin – an exiled American and husband to one of the most famous Greek movie stars of all time – made this vehicle for wife Melina Mercouri. She stars opposite him as a strong-willed prostitute who he tries to bring under his thumb; but Mercouri remains stubbornly individual in the face of his haughty American attempts to ‘improve’ her. It’s a clumsy if well-meaning parable about American disregard for other cultures, but Mercouri’s performance really shines through, embodying the fighting spirit of a generation of tough Greeks. Ironically, the film had enormous success stateside.
The Travelling Players (1975)
Director Theo Angelopoulos
This wandering tale of a travelling troupe of actors, covering a vast span of Greek history in retrospect, shot Theo Angelopoulos to international acclaim. Beginning in 1939 and tracing the turbulence of German occupation and the revolutionary stirrings of the civil war, Angelopoulos adopts a loose, gradual pace, stretching his nearly four-hour running time into a tapestry of muddy, war-torn mid-century Greece. During their travels, the actors encounter pro and anti-royalist rallies, hanged partisans, and forces of occupying armies, and no one escapes unscathed. They are given no other names but their mythical onstage ones – Agamemnon, Elektra, et al – and only these in the credits, implying a certain metaphorical dimension to each of their destinies. Angelopoulos’s film is a masterpiece of form, too; comprised of only 80 graceful, long still shots. He captures riotous Athenian streets and the rocky Mediterranean landscape as integral pieces of the political and human drama that unfold against it.
The Idlers of the Fertile Valley (1978)
Director Nikos Panayotopoulos
This film of the story of a father and his three sons. The four men are members of the bourgeoisie society, living in their luxurious countryside house without any responsibilities except eating and having sexual relations with the maid. Director Nikos Panayotopoulos satirizes the social and political structures of Greece and manages to build one of the most linear, allegorical films of contemporary Greek cinema. Furthermore, the filmmaker succeeds in handling one of the toughest and most controversial issues ever portrayed on screen: lewd and careless behavior of the joyless and spoiled upper class. Throughout the years, the movie’s allegorical dimension may have subsided, and it by contemporary standards, the film is akin to a comedy rather than a surreal satire full of subtle messages. Still, the inventiveness of the script remains and, the dark atmosphere enchants the viewers. Through The Idlers of the Fertile Valley, the audience realizes that the upper class can be repulsive and superficial, which are important ideals in Western society.
Director Costa Ferris
Named for a type of traditional Greek folk music and the accompanying dance, Costa Ferris’s film is a loosely fictionalised account of the life of popular singer Marika Ninou (Sotiria Leonardou) and her rise to fame. Born in 1919, the protagonist faces an ever-collapsing Greek social order; the early 20th-century history of the country was rife with disaster and war. So the heart-wrenching musical drama unfolds as Ferris – a respected songwriter – uses the rembetiko as a source of pride amid the chaos. The music serves as a vessel for cultural memory and political commentary. Director Ferris said of it: “No other modern creation wakes, so directly and so automatically, the Greek soul; the rebel that every Greek has inside.”
Voyage to Cythera (1984)
Director Theo Angelopoulos
The first of Angelopoulos’s loose ‘Trilogy of Silence’ (completed by The Beekeeper and Landscape in the Mist), Voyage to Cythera tells of the homecoming of a elderly man (Manos Katrakis) who was exiled after the Greek civil war – as so many were – for his left-wing politics. After spending some 35 years in the Soviet Union, he returns to find an aged wife and grown children waiting for him, but struggles to find any depth of feeling for them. His son, a filmmaker, is equally at a loss, looking on as his father refuses to sell his ancestral land. Still, this never plays as straightforward drama. Angelopoulos’s characteristic ambiguity and crawling pace offer more questions than answers. What’s happened to the old revolutionary in the intervening years? How alien must his home country seem to his weary eyes? Voyage to Cythera is an enigmatic, sometimes frustrating film, but in many ways this is befitting of the journey itself. The past is an impossible destination, just as the storied island of Cythera turns out to be.