A fellow named Jules Dassin decided to make a film. He wrote, directed and starred in it as a misguided American fan of ancient Greek literature and thought, running headlong into a world of modern working-class Greeks who mostly couldn’t care less about an American’s obsession with Socrates or Greek Tragedy. There’s something of a lesson here for me, as I’ve long harbored a fantasy of Greek travel simply to want to touch the ground our entire Western world built its philosophy and statecraft on (we even mimic much of the corruptions and vileness!).
Our story however quickly develops around a beloved prostitute (beloved by the townsmen and sailors alike) and our American’s obsession with bringing her a kind of missionary’s blanket of moral “education” that he thinks she’ll thank him for eventually. There are a few other hi-jinks along the way and the film manages to do a kind of exotic version of the old Shirley McClain golden-hearted prostitute thing in Irma la Douce.
The hilarity erupts as the locals love to get Ilya (our prostitute) telling her versions of the ancient classics, including the wicked Medea story (she of having slaughtered her own kiddos) but Ilya tells them differently, puts happy endings on them, and makes the folks laugh. This of course, outrages our American and for these reasons I suspect the film got some awards at Cannes. This is a terrific tale of Western moral export and cultural expectations (the every Chinese man or woman must know kung fu). Our American fully expects to find people in togas and engaging in philosophical dialogues. His disappointment is maintained with a few fat lips and black eyes until he finally quaffs some of the local brew and engages in some folk dancing. There we go!
Free on Prime, an actual Cannes Film Festival prize-winner! Impressive.