Never on Sunday
stars Melina Mercouri in the Cannes award-winning role of her career. Mercouri plays Ilya, an independent prostitute who chooses her own clientele. Director-screenwriter Jules Dassin plays Homer Thrace, an American amateur philosopher from Middletown Connecticut, fascinated by the rise and fall of Greek civilization. Upon meeting Ilya Homer perceives her lifestyle as a symbol of the decline and is determined to reform her and somehow right the wrongs of Greek culture. Unbeknownst to Illya he accepts money for this task from her greatest enemy, Mr. No Face, a pimp who controls the other prostitutes of the area. Homer's antics are corny and irritating to all which makes Mercouri shine ever bright--especially for her tolerance and later forgiveness of his foolishness.
This pearl of a film with black and white cinematography was set in the Greek port city Piraeus and the cast was almost entirely Greek. The bouzouki theme song and music and Oscar winning best song Never on Sunday by Manos Hadjidakis is irresistible-- first introduced to us by Ilya's little phonograph. Dassin captures the essence of the devotion of the Greeks to the sea and to sea faring vessels. The opening scene reveals Mercouri ready for her daily swim, looked on admiringly by fisherman and port authorities. While the film serves to exploit the myth of the happy prostitute, it reveals the charm and powerful simplicity of the Greece people. The interaction of Homer with the residents as the lone American complete with tourist hat and hanging camera is comic. In one classic scene, Homer tells a bouzouki player that he is not a musician because he can not read music. Ilya comes to the rescue reminding the player that the birds that sing also do not read music. Her childlike relationship to life is further realized by her insistence that the Greek tragedies somehow land on their feet, and everyone goes to the seashore at the end.
Ilya prefers to see her many admirers as her friends rather than exploiters. While this may seem odd and even somewhat disturbing the power of Mercouri is that she manages to pull it all off with great humor.
Dassin and Mercouri who were married in 1966 made a total of nine films and both were political figures. Expatriate Dassin was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Mercouri, the daughter of a former mayor of Athens was expelled from Greece in 1967 from the Greek Colonel's junta. Mercouri later became a member of Parliament in 1977 and the cultural minister of Greece during the 1980's. She died of lung cancer in 1994 and the country went into a period of national mourning.
Never on Sunday was only recently released on video by MGM in 2000 and the MGM DVD version will appear on July 1.
For Movie Magazine This is Moira Sullivan, Lesbos, Greece.
© 2003 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 6/03
Never on Sunday