12 January 2012

Film review: Never on Sunday (starring Melina Mercouri and Jules Dassin)

Browsing Amazon, as one does, this DVD was recommended to me, along with several others that were about Greek culture or people. I assume that this is because I had already rated 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' highly, and had 'Driving Aphrodite' on my wishlist. I had no idea that there were so many films featuring Greek people! I skimmed through the reviews, rejecting the ones that were unpopular, and put 'Never on Sunday' on my wishlist, as it seemed to be very highly regarded in both the UK and US.

I received it for Christmas, and we watched it last night.

Our first surprise was that it was as old as it is - I hadn't really taken in the details, so we had not noted that it was made in 1960, nor - stranger still - that it was black and white. I also hadn't expected that over half the film was in Greek, with English sub-titles (there are options for three or four other languages in the menu).

However, it seemed like an interesting story, if somewhat unusual. Ilya is the main character, brilliantly played by Melina Mercouri who is best known as one of the earliest women in Greek goverment. She is a lively, fun-loving 'lady of the night'. She goes swimming each morning to entertain sailors, and is said not to have a price... she chooses her men, depending on whether or not she likes them.

Homer (Jules Dassin) is an American philosopher visiting Greece, determined to find out what made the country descend from the great cultural icon of ancient times into the disorganised, light-hearted crazy culture he sees around him. We first come across him in a taverna, watching people getting drunk and dancing in typical Greek style. He makes a cultural error, and is embroiled in an angry fight when Ilya - who speaks pretty good English - arrives and manages to negotiate.

Homer is shocked when he discovers Ilya's profession, but sees her as an icon, a representation of all that he considers to be wrong with Greece. So he sets out to educate and enlighten her.. in a way that seemed, at first, to be along the lines of 'Pygmalion' (a story popularised in the films 'My Fair Lady' and 'Educating Rita').

We liked the story, once we got used to the regular subtitles, and the way the film was made. Ilya is quite a believable person, in a 1960s, never dishevelled kind of way, and the strangely named Homer is a cleverly satirical character, determined that his own country and culture are superior to the one he is visiting. Yet he does not object to some hypocritical wheeling and dealing on his own behalf.

What puzzled us is that the UK rating is only PG, and it's not rated at all in the USA. Admittedly there is no bad language, and there are no overt bedroom scenes or below-the-shoulders frontal nudity displayed; but there's a great deal of it implied. Indeed, the entire story has an 'adult' theme that should surely attract at least a '12' rating. There are many scenes of drunkenness and disorder, and some violence too, though nothing too gory. Not that it worried us - it just shows how ridiculous some of the ratings systems are.

Not sure I'd particularly recommend this film, but it was interesting to see - and probably all the more so since we ourselves live in a Greek-speaking country, so could catch at least some of the Greek dialogue, and certainly understood the reality (if a little caricatured) of the culture.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

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