Thursday, December 07, 2006

“Teach Me How to Dance”, Alexis Zorba

"Teach Me How to Dance", that’s the concluding sentence of the goldie oldie movie starring Anthony Quinn, Alexis Zorba or "Zorba, the Greek". I have seen this movie long time ago, when I was a child or teenager in Cairo. I had the chance to watch one more time recently. I did not know that I will fall in love with this movie to that extent. At certain moments, I had the feeling I was watching an Egyptian movie not because of the resemblance of the scenery between Egypt and Greece but for the cultural part. There were so many brilliant scenes in the movie that you can mute while seeing and make believe that they are happening or happened in so many parts in Egypt. I will start with the closing scenes of the movie.

“Teach me how to dance” or teach me how to live. If one cannot dance, it translates to one cannot live or co-exist. Most of the peoples of the world dance. Dancing is a sign of a liberal unshackled soul that can fly to embrace the life’s splendor at anytime and at any place. It does not take sophisticated people to dance or in other words to live.

Dancing is a body language for free people. If the soul is imprisoned inside a tied body that cannot express itself, this soul will never be free.

The movie depicts two main characters; Zorba (Quinn) and the English man or Boss who went to Greece to claim his father’s property.

The inability to express yourself physically even when you are capable is yet another sign of social inhibition, according to the movie. It is like living in a retro society when you are a progressive liberal creature. You can tell how the peoples’ of the world are doing or performing in their lives from their dances.

The final dance in “Zorba, the Greek” is a union between Zorba and the Boss. It is an acknowledgement to the need for a common human dance where everyone can learn and teach how to dance or live with freedom. Though it is widely known as the Zorba dance, but I believe it is the freedom dance. The Boss realizes after some failures his need to learn how to dance to be a free person and that freedom will be his only way to claim any property in the world not only in Greece. It is the common language understood between the peoples of the world who can dance.

The movie ends with Quinn teaching the Boss how to dance. No one can start dancing except when he realizes that the level of interaction with his needs and the surroundings is so weak that inhibits him from reaching the goals in life.

Most the scenes take place in a little tiny village in Greece in 1964. It is a very small community of people, but this where Zorba and Boss land to start some mining activities.

Aside from the dancing scene, another two climax scenes in the movie that struck me like lightning were the death of the two women characters; the widow and Madame Hortense. In societies of oppression, the weak and the most vulnerable become the most targeted by the values of violence and hatred. Automatically, women with no doubt in so many communities fall prey to the culture of violence.

Greece in 1964 surprises me to be Egypt in 2006 in some parts. In the early years of last century the Greeks took Alexandria and Cairo as refuge for modernity.

Greece in today’s world is branded as a European western country. It is an EU country, according to all European standards. In 1964, that was not the case in Greece according to the movie. Women there were treated as in some parts of the Middle East countries. They were treated as properties and inferior creatures with no right for self-determination or freedoms to decide for themselves. In other words, women did not own their lives. A death sentence could be imposed suddenly with no chance for appeal.

In the movie, the widow is intimidated by the entire village to be with a man. She is pretty and young. From the people of the village’s point of view, she has to be with a man or she has to sleep with a man to win her protection. She chose not. Apparently because she wants love not just a male. A choice they cannot understand. That was felt in her attraction to the Boss. But the Boss is not capable of protecting her. He does speak the language and he is stranger to the village. In this small village in Greece, all men have nothing to do except sitting on a café watching her moves all day. There was one man from the village who was obsessed by the widow and was so madly in love, but he cannot defend her against the society’s backward values that criminalize her for being a widow. She is not interested in him, so she made him the laughing stock of the village for not being able to prove his manhood. In return, the men and women of the village intimidated her for the slightest reason, knowing that she has no man to defend her. The women saw her as an outcast for not being subjected by a man, especially in bed. Free women at that time in Greece were regarded as whores. The idea was stressed in the beautiful Greek movie “Never on a Sunday” starring the talented Melina Mercouri. She was the most attractive charming free woman character in the entire movie, but she was a whore. The movie was produced in 1960.

The scene of the death of the widow in “Zorba” was the cruelest ever and most moving. It is a climax scene. It happens on a Sunday in front of the village’s church. At the background, the church’s prayers are heard. The amazing part is that her killers were going for prayers. They trapped her before going to church and did not allow her to enter the church. The entire village started stoning her and cornered her in a square. The man who was deeply in love with her committed suicide after his friends told him that the widow slept with another man. He was two weak to take it as he was two weak to defend her or acknowledge that she was never in love with him. So he committed suicide. His friends made the widow responsible for his death, though responsibility lies on the friends who reported to him in a teasing way. In the square in front of the church, the friends and the father of the dead lover took their knives to slaughter her like a goat. Quinn (Zorba) interferes to save her. He tells her to follow him. The moment he turns his back to move on, the father attacks the widow from the back and cuts the widows neck. She paid her life for being attracted to someone who is a stranger to the village or for not being with a man from the village. The community of the village acted as if responsible for guarding her chastity, not giving her the choice of love.

The second female character in the movie is Madame Hortense. She is the French woman who owns an hotel that is considered a fancy place in comparison to the rest of the shabby houses of the village.

She was a woman of the world in her own definition. She is proud of her love affairs with foreign officers until somehow she ended in this little tiny village in Greece where the world became so small. The values of love and human relationships are different from where she came from.

She is another outcast or free female character. But despite her isolation that is whether imposed by her style of life or by the people of the village, when she died, people of the village did not deny themselves the right to raid her hotel to rob and steal all her properties upon her death news. It was permissible to steal her house. The only two who were able to say a human goodbye before her death without stealing anything were Zorba and the Boss.

It was not a surprise to see that the character linking Zorba, the widow and Madame Hortense was a lunatic guy, living in his world. In one’s personal crazy world, conventional set of beliefs are broken and defragmented. The selection process for the new beliefs starts with freedom. More than 30 years ago, Greece embraced values that Egypt abides by in 2006 when Egypt 50 years was the refuge to many Greeks for the values of it provided.

Greece at this time was not a Muslim country and still it is not, however many Muslim countries in the Middle East still following Greece’s pursuit in the 60s’. They want to regard women as properties and judging their style of lives according to morality standards. Greece was able to liberate itself from the grips of the backward social values. The Muslim countries are not capable of escaping the backwardness of the social values because they are heavily tying them to words of God. Greece in 30 years became a modern western country with civilized values despite the strong Orthodox Church institution. In the movie, the church was depicted as weak and isolated and still people can do what they want. Despite being in the premises of the church, the people of the village were able to kill the widow. Monks were a group of people living in a secluded monastery on the mountains leading their own style of life without trying to impose it on the rest of the village. It was Zorba’s decision to include them to use the monastery’s trees for his mining project. It is very difficult in the Middle East to unshackle the backward social values from the strong grip of the any religious institution. In Egypt, they are still discussing whether to issue a religious Fatwa to ban female genital mutilation or not… May in 100 years, they would realize that it has nothing to do with religion…

One reason I prefer to dance…


At 6:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am impressed by your analysis of Zorba. You are right religion is used sometimes only as cover to some people's backward and cruelty. The solution is education and women empowerment.
Egyptian in Germany

At 8:42 PM, Blogger Freedom for Egyptians said...

Hi my friend "Egyptian in Germany",

Regrettably in today's world education and women empowerment are not the solution to end backwardness.

Illiteracy rates in Egypt were 90% in the 19 century, however Egyptians were able to produce the only liberal revolution in their region.

Women empowerment under authoritarian regimes is the impossible mission. Women can effectively be one of the major measures for development, political and economic freedoms...

But viola...

I am happy to know you liked what I wrote about Zorba. It is a movie worth seeing every day...

At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Odin Lever said...

Interresting analysis indeed. I only have one comment. Hortense is an old prostitute living in a fantasy world. Isn't that rather obvious?

At 3:57 PM, Blogger Freedom for Egyptians said...

I did not say she is a prostitute. She is just a liberal woman, who took the liberity to establish relationships so many men in her life in contrast to the strict conservative social codes of the village that deprived the widow from establishing a relationship with the Boss.

Hortense was a free woman in the sense that she was free to love..

At 6:28 AM, Anonymous Odin lever said...

You didn't say that. I did. Great blog you got by the way. Keep it up.

At 11:58 PM, Anonymous Eva said...

Freedom, you should make a living writing about film - you are that good!

I was about to say something else but I was distracted by that endless rant in the comments section. Why don't you get rid of it?

At 1:23 AM, Anonymous Barsawad said...

Have you read the book 'Zorba The Greek' by Nikos Kazanzakis? It's even more interesting and very thought provoking. I haven't watched the movie; after your very detailed review of the film - I will have to find it and watch it.

The 'Anonymous' who has posted the very long comment here, has done the same on my other blog; whatever his intentions - he is one of those confused and purposeless Internet prowlers.

At 6:08 PM, Anonymous Marina said...

salam FFE :) ana younaniyya, kint ktir far7ana inno inti kan bt7ibb el oussa el zorba. My 3arabi shwayy khara, bass i am trying, 3afwan :D


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