The Greeks are renowned for influencing Western Civilization in every aspect of politics, philosophy, art, literature, and theatre. After many centuries, Greece is back to creating classics—this time through film. Although over these years, many components of Greek cinema has changed, one fact remains the same: the unique charm of Grecian movies.
The emergence of the Grecian financial crisis has aroused the art of filmmaking, for the below entries prove that the making of quality and sophisticated movies is obvious. Thus, the following list includes both classic and modern masterpieces of fascinating and compelling Greek cinema.
1. Stella (1955), dir. Mihalis Kakogiannis
Titular character Stella (Melina Mercouris) is a beautiful cabaret singer who falls in love with Miltos (Giorgos Foundas), Stella, however, is afraid of commitment; thus, she refuses to marry Miltos. The lavish performer continues to lead Miltos’ on until she finally crosses the line and his limits.
Adapted to the screen from a Greek opera, Stella is one of the most important European films, as it is Melina Mercouri’s extraordinary and talented acting debut as well as director’s Mihalis Kakogiannis’ great ability to create philosophical themed movies.
Moreover, it is one of the first movies to present the importance of feminism on the big screen. Until then, Greek movies never tried to think outside the box and when Stella hit the theatres, the audience was shocked with the movie’s pioneering vision. It was nothing like they had seen before. Now, fifty-nine years after its release, it is considered a classic by many; Stella hasn’t lost its touch, and it will probably never will.
2. The Ogre of Athens (1956), dir. 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.
3. Never on Sunday (1960), dir, Jules Dassin
Ilya (Melina Merkouri) is one of the most successful prostitutes in the port of Piraeus. Every man wants her and every woman wants to be her. Along comes Homer (Jules Dassin), a ‘”serious’’ American, who tries to reform her morals and introduce her to culture, if that’s possible.
Never on Sunday is the definition of joy and liberation. There is no cynicism, no melancholy, and no misery. It is everything Pretty Woman (1990) wanted to be and should have been; it’s an almost perfect film. The amazing including the talented Melina Merkouri and the director himself shines, and Merkouri presents the best performance of her career.
By far the “most Greek” film of all time, the Academy-award winning Never on Sunday is a jewel to world of cinema and continues to fill the hearts of the audience with passionate love and nostalgic memories. Piraeus is a place of romance, harmony, beauty, excitement, but it’s ‘’Never on Sunday.”
4. The Red Lanterns (1963), dir. Vasilis Georgiadis
The Red Lanterns, an adaptation of the Grecian playwright, Alekos Galanos, has a plot quite similar to Never on Sunday. Five prostitutes, each one of them with marginal personalities, are left without a job when their brothel in Piraeus—not a tourist attraction, but a filthy city full of sin and depression— shuts down. Unlike Never on Sunday, The Red Lanterns is a tragedy. The characters are cynical and self-destructive.
The film is bold, and one of the most decent social dramas of the 1960s—a decade characterized by cheap Greek melodramas. Although it doesn’t avoid some clichés and familiar dramatic situations, the film’s terrific interpretations and great direction by Vasillis Georgiadis make this Oscar-nominated piece worthwhile. The Red Lanterns caused serious controversy after its release, but it undeniably the foreign tragedy of the twentieth century.
5. The Travelling Players (1975), dir. Theodoros Angelopoulos
Theo Angelopoulos is considered by many critics as one of the best European filmmakers. Although Eternity and a Day (1998) is the director’s most critically acclaimed movie, The Travelling Players is his best achievement. The Travelling Players is not a better movie—they both are equally fascinating—but this four hour epic is the best lesson in Greek history of the 20th century.
The film chronicles the tragic adventures of a group of Grecian traveling actors who, from 1939 to 1952, attempt to stage the famous play, Golfo. Combined with an exceptional study on the human race and the relationships between family members, the film is extraordinary; its long running time and slow paced direction, however, makes it easily misunderstood and undervalued.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that The Travelling Players is the most important film about the history of Greece and the Grecians. A masterpiece of the New Greek Cinema, The Travelling Players is a glorious addition to global cinema, a film which still causes sensation to its viewers.
6. The Idlers of the Fertile Valley (1978), dir. 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.
7. Rembetiko (1983), dir. Costas Ferris
“Rembetiko” is the name of a genre of Greek folk music— its main musical instrument is the bouzouki—with oriental origins and primary themes of love and manhood and. Thus, the film Rebetiko is loosely based on the life of the rebetiko singer, Marika Ninou, and uniquely chronicles the story of Greece from 1917 to 1956.
As the English translation of “rembekito” might suggest, the film’s music is the most powerful criterion of this film. The diegetic and non-diegetic melody masks the script’s flaws, allowing the film to burst with life and energy. The music gloriously narrates the hardships, joys, loves, and fights for survival the rembetiko singer endures.
Rembetiko is recognized as the best film about Greek music; every music sequence is filled with magic and the representation of the time. The withdrawal of the lost musical ethos, combined with the elements of a popular musical drama, complete this epic masterpiece.
8. The Sweet Bunch (1983), dir. Nikos Nikolaidis
This film recounts four days in the lives and misadventures of four gang members. The Sweet Bunch, directed by Nikos Nikolaidis, wanders into extremely authentic territory in which no filmmaker before him has explored.
It’s a modern western packed with electrifying performances and a chilling soundtrack that causes the audience to shudder. Although its controversial violence and sex scenes were ridiculed by critics upon its release, The Sweet Bunch is now considered the best Greek film of all time.
The characters’ unfamiliar past and strong, unsociable, lonely personalities make them tragic figures. The film’s diegetic dialogue includes impressive one-liners, social and political anecdotes, and cynicism. Behind the violent surface, however, is a project that depicts love, friendship, and life, with blunt—yet poetic—language. The Sweet Bunch is a film of striking beauty.