Rembetiko (1983) 




Director:     Costas Ferris.

Starring:      Sotiria Leonardou (Marika),  Nikos Kalogeropoulos (Bambis),  Michalis Maniatis (Giorgakis),  Themis Bazaka (Andriana),  Nikos Dimitratos (Panagis),  Giorgos Zorbas (Thomas),  Konstantinos Tzoumas (Giannis),  Vicky Vanita (Roza).

 40 years of the life of Greek popular singer Marika Ninou (1922-1957) covers a great deal of Greek history


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.


"Almost 1,000,000 Greek refugees from the west coast of Asia Minor who had become dispossessed, were now confined to living their lives under the lower step of the Greek urban social order.  They engaged in a life style that was considered borderline at best, living in Pireus' slum cities, and neighboring with the original outcasts of the Port.  It was in the overcrowded and economically and politically destitute conditions during the 1930s and 40s that the Rembetiko genre of music reached its height in popularity."

"In Greece, Rembetiko had always been known as the songs of the outcasts.  The time depicted in this film covers a period in Greek History from about 1919 to 1956.  This was a time of tremendous transition and instability for the entire Greek nation.  In 1922, a military campaign waged with rival nation Turkey, resulted in what the Greeks have called the Smyrna Disaster."

Before World War I.  Greeks have lived in Asia Minor since antiquity and before WWI there were almost 2.5 million Greeks living in the Ottoman Empire.

During WWI.  Greece became divided into two radically opposed political camps..  The leader Venizelos (the former prime minister) set up a separate state in Northern Greece.  With Allied support, the King was forced to abdicate.  Greece divided into two foremost political formations:  the Venizelist Liberals (following Venizelos)  and the Royalists (following ex-King Constantine).

1919-1922.  The Greco-Turkish War.  After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI, the empire was partitioned.  The war was fought between Greece and the Turkish revolutionaries pushing for the establishment of a nation called the Republic of Turkey.  Greece had to give up all territory gained during the war.  Furthermore, Greece had do a population exchange with the newly established state of Turkey.  Greeks from Anatolia and East Thrace came to Greece and Turks from Greece came to Turkey.  The population exchange was a big deal because so many people had to move.  There were now so many Greek-Turks in Greece that they created a new genre of music known as Rembetiko or Rebtiko. 

1919 (May 15)  --  20,000 Greek soldiers land in Smyrna, Turkey and take control of the city.

Smyrna, Asia Minor, 1919.  A Rembetiko group plays and sings at a cafe.  There are many more performers than there are customers in the place.  A woman gives birth in the cafe.  When the band finishes playing and singing the mid-nurse tells the leader of the band, Panagis:  "Congratulations, Panagis!  It's a girl." 

Smyrna 1922.  1922 (September 9)  --  Turkish cavalry enter Smyrna.

1922 (Sept. 13-Sept. 22)  -- Great Fire of Smyrna.  Greek and Armenian causalities ranged from a estimated low of 2,000 up to 100,000.  50,000 to 400,000 Greek and Armenian refugees crammed the waterfront escaping from the fire.  They had  to remain there under harsh conditions for nearly two weeks.

1922 (Sept. 24)  -  the evacuation of the Greeks and Armenians begins.  Between 150,000 and 200,000 Greeks were evacuated. 

1925  --  Refugees' slum city in Greece.  At Thomas' cafe.  A band plays and two men dance.   Panagis is the band leader.  His wife also plays in the band.  The songs express the frustrations of the Greeks forced out of Anatolia. 

Panagis lives in a simple place with his wife and small girl.  When his wife Adriana spots that Thomas is coming over to their place, she tells her husband to go into the back room.  She says:  "He'll probably bring some food.  Our Marika has to eat!"  Panagis doesn't like Thomas putting his hands on his wife for some "filthy food", but he goes in the back room. 

Thomas comes in.  He brings her a piece of meat.  He also has a hair band for her.  He is about to kiss her when they are interrupted by the daughter Marika when she calls out "Mother!" when she's right next to her mother.  Mom gets irritated and she tells Marika:  "Stop shouting 'mother'!  Go out and play!"  Marika goes outside and walks through the neighborhood.  Thomas goes back to what he was going to do with Andriana.  There is  a lot of activity on the street.  She walks over to a young violinist namedlYorgos.  In front of a street cafe, the fellow plays the violin while Marika dances.  After Marika stops dancing the fellow collects some money from the viewers.  

Marika sits inside the cafe eating.  Thomas comes up to Marika and touches her hair.  She puts some coins on the table, but Thomas tells her to keep her money.

When she gets home Marika is hit with a belt by her father for disappearing as she did.  Her mother tries to stop her father, but he just pushes her out of the way. 

The family plays in the band in the cafe.  Thomas gives Panagis some money and then starts dancing by himself.  Andriana looks like she is mesmerized.

Andriana and Thomas have sex in one room while the little girl sleeps in the next room.

On a day when Andriana stays home and the band plays without her, Thomas again wants to have sex with her.  This time Andriana pulls away from Thomas.  He comes after her and she walks away a little ways.  He keeps following her and they embrace and kiss.  Andriana tells him that she is afraid of her fate.  Thomas says:  "I am your fate, Andriana.  I love you.  I'll take you away."  They embrace and kiss again. 

Panagis laughs at Andriana saying she pretends to be sick so she can go off with her lover.  She is making coffee.  When she finishes, she gives the cup to Panagis in such a way that the cup falls to the ground.  He shouts at her:  "Damn you!  Go away!  Go away, and never set foot in this house again."  Andriana is really angry and she says she will leave because she is disgusted by having to work with him. She accuses him of selling her services.  He tells her it's because of her lover.  She spits in his face and he slaps her face.  She shouts:  "So now it's your boyfriend!  When you let him put his hands on me, so that you can work for him, everything was ok, huh?"  He slaps her out into the street and keeps slapping her down the street.  He grabs a chair and throws it at her.  The chair hit her and she falls to the ground.  (brief nudity). 

Now Panagis worries if he has really hurt Andriana.  The neighbors watch and Thomas does too. 

1944-1949.  Scenes of the Greek Civil War pitting the government forces (backed by the West) and the communists (backed by the East).  The Western forces won out and Greece joined NATO.  The government lost more than 15,000 dead, but the communists lost close to 39,000.  1,000,000 people had to relocate. 

Marika is now 16 years old.  She watches a magician do his tricks and is captivated by it.  In the night the magician returns to his wagon.  Marika is there waiting for him.  She goes with him and they have sex in the wagon.  Then she travels with him on a tour around Greece.  She becomes part of the act. 

Marika tells the magician Yannis that she is pregnant. He says with a sigh:  "That's all we needed!"

Maria has her baby.  Yannis tells her that he is losing his audiences.  He can't compete with the cinema.  So he is going abroad for 2-3 years.  When he comes back he will have some money and will establish himself in Greece.  He says he doesn't get any respect now and it sickens him.  Marika tells him to go ahead and go.  She will take care of everything.  Yannis says he will send her some money.

A band still plays at Thomas' place.  Marika is in the second row of musicians.  She see Thomas in the audience and it seems bitterness crosses over her face.  Greek men get up and dance. 

Marika walks with a young man named Babis.  He flatters her and she says he is a good talker.  No one has ever spoken to her the ways he does.  They sit down on a bench.  He asks if Yorgos ever talked to her this way?  Marika says that Yorgos was always too shy.  He starts to put his arm around her, but she tells him that some of the band members are headed this way.  Later she and Babis go to her place.  He is not impressed by the place, but she asks him if his place is a palace?  Furthermore, Yorgos is like her brother, because they grew up together.  Babis says that Yorgos loves her a lot. 

Babis starts to hug Marika, but they are interrupted by her girl Andriana.  Mother tells her to go outside to her aunt.  She locks the door behind Andriana.  Babis and Marika are about to have sex.  She does warn him, however, that she trusts no one, including Babis. 

The band members look over the women of a brothel from outside.  Then they go to the "Lemon Market", an out-doors market. 

Yorgos sits with Marika outside Thomas' cafe.  He tells her that she can make a lot more money singing solo.  And she might even be able to make a record too.  She's not so sure of her voice, but he tells her if she can bring out the sorrow and grief deep inside her, she can sing very well. 

There is some type of protest in the street and the police chase the people away while firing their rifles.  Babis grabs Marika and starts running away with her as he shouts that the people are being beaten.  She and Babis have sex again. 

Babis has left Thomas's place.  Marika plays the tambourine, but with little enthusiasm.  Thomas tells his girfriend that Babis ran away with his girlfriend Rosa to get a better place. 

Marika now sings solo.  She remembers her father and the time when he killed her mother. 

Marika asks Yorgos to take her to the place where Babis sings with his girlfriend Rosa. 

Athens.  Yorgos takes his mother and Marika to the place where Babis plays.  The manager comes over and sits down with the three newcomers.  He says that drinks are on him and Babis.  Marika gets up and goes very close to the band, but turns left and goes to check her hair in a wall mirror.  Babis is in the front row playing an instrument.  Babis comes over to her and she acts as if he is a stranger.  The fellow tells Marika that he is glad she came to see him.  He wanted to go see her, but he wasn't sure how the other guys in the band might react to him. 

Marika tells Babis that she has been singing solo.  He asks her to work here with him.  But what about Rosa?  He says Rosa is a good person and a great singer, who brought him up from nothing to be where he is now.  "And she has nothing against you."  Rosa can't carry the whole show on her shoulders.  She needs help and that can be provided by Marika.  He says:  "Iordanis' place needs you."  She tells Babis that if she is going to make a move, she will go to a place where she will be the only star and she will have music written especially for her.  Furthermore, Yorgos will be coming with her. 

For the moment Marika is still with Yorgos at Thomas' place.  Thomas tells her that he will help her because he loves her likes he loved her dear departed mother.  Marika is repulsed by the mention of her mother's name by the man who was partly responsible for her death.

Marika tells Yorgos that Babis wants her to come sing with his band.  He asks her not to go and promises her he will ask Thomas to pay her more money.  He tells her that to him she is like a mother or a sister.  He starts to tell her he loves her, but chokes.  So Marika tells him that she loves him, too.  The police suddenly bust into the place saying that they are all under arrest. Then they absolutely trash the place. 

Marika is in jail now sitting on the floor of an empty room.  A guard comes around and asks who is the singer Marika?  That's her ticket out of jail.  She runs back home, but there she sees Yorgos being arrested.  The men and women are arrested because there were reports of people using drugs in the restaurant.  Yorgos asks Marika to watch over his mother. 

Now Marika sits right besides Rosa and sings with her. 

The build-up to WWII is on its way.  The fascist Mussolini is the key leader in Italy.  Hitler harangues a crowd in Germany.  The persecution and then the mass killings of the Jewish people starts.  British Chamberlain holds a piece of paper signed by Hitler saying there will be peace in Europe. 

1940.  WWII rages on.  Marika holds her girl in her lap and tells her a story.  Soon the child is dancing to the sound of her mother's voice, while Rosa gets drunk as she watches from the audience.  Babis goes over to her and asks her to stop drinking.  She pushes him away and starts dancing for the crowd in the back.  Rosa takes her vest off and starts dancing seductively.  So Marika sings while Rosa dances.  Babis stops the show and speaks with Marika.  He balls her out saying he's the boss and he tells the band and her when to play and when not to play.  Bitter words are said between the two.  Marika hears something from the other room and goes to look.  Rose has slit her wrists.  Babis comes in and picks Rosa up.  He tells Marika:  "Take your little bastard and get lost!"

October 28, 1940.  The church bells are ringing.  An air siren sounds off.  Marika opens the window of her second story apartment.  She look out and see Yorgos.  He tells her that they are sending him to the front to fight.  He also asks Marika to look in on his mother.

Scenes of Greek men going to fight the Germans.  Yorgos' mother tells Marika to leave her daughter with her, while Marika travels around trying to make some money.

Marika goes to see Babis.  Babis says they won't take him into the army because of an old handicap.  And they have closed down all the clubs.  He tells Marika that the shut down is only temporary because when there is big trouble people need even more entertainment.  Marika sits down and tells Babis that she lovse him and, in fact:  "I've never loved anyone like this."  Babis tells her that he feels that Marika doesn't really love anyone but herself.  She just cares about herself.  Marika is upset.  She tells him:  "Why do you wrong me, Babis?  Why do you humiliate me?"  She starts crying and Babis tells her it was no big deal, forget about it!  He tells her to keep her home because he will pay for it. 

Yorgos' mother reads her son's letter to Marika and her daughter.  Yorgos says they won, but he is not really happy about it. 

German occupation.  The Greek women close their doors and shutters, because the Germans are coming.  Yorgos is back home.  He plays the violin on the street and the Germans walk passed him with a couple of Greek prisoners with them.  Greeks wait in soup lines to get something to eat.  A Greek man tells Marika that he is helping her because he used to come and listen to her sing.  She and the man see a bunch of Greeks being pushed into a circle surrounded by German soldiers.  The Germans put a black ski mask over the head of a Greek informer and he picks out the culprits.

The man who gave Marika some olive oil and food tells Mrs. Marika to go out another way.  She bring the food back to Babis who has hired a beautiful woman singer.  He tells Marika that the club has reopened and he wants Marika to practice her singing.  He introduces the new woman, Matina, to Marika.  So now Marika and Matina sit front row center beside each other and sing. 

Yorgos and another man come in to hear Marika sing.  The owner comes over and talks with Yorgos.  He mentions that now Marika is the great singer!  Who knew? 

Marika comes over to the table and tells Yorgos that Babis wants to see him.  Yorgos tells Marika with a skeptical eye:  "Pay a visit one afternoon.  The kid asks for you." 

Marika is back stage.  Matina asks her if she happy?  Marika asks:  "What for?"  Matina tells her because Babis hired both Yorgos and his friend.  She then asks Marika not to drink too much during work.  Marika sees Mr. Thomas standing in the back.  She looks at him in disbelief when he says:  "Oh, Marika. . . .You would have been my queen!"  Marika says nothing. 

Air raid sirens go off and big explosions are heard.  Yorgos' friend dances for Marika, while everyone is in the back wondering whether they should stay or go because of the shelling. She is flattered and smiles.  But then she sees that Babis and Matina are not on the stage anymore.  She goes to look for them.  She finds them having sex (brief nudity). 

Marika is furious with Babis so she demands that he consult her before he hires any musicians.  And she says that the people come to the club to hear her sing.  Therefore, she shouts:  "I decide about the show!"  He tells her to go home and they will talk tomorrow.  Alone, Marika starts crying.  The man who danced for her comes over to her.  He has blood on his face and chest.  She asks what happened?  He says:  "I slew Thomas.  He had to pay."  Marika takes the fellow home with her.  He is still there in the morning.  He talks a lot about his friend Yorgos.

A fellow comes over to Marika and tells her a guy named Panagis is outside and he says he is her father.  What should I tell him:?  Tell him to see her after her work is done. 

The old man waits in the club for his daughter.  A fellow comes up and asks who is this old man?  Panagis says he is the father of Marika.  The guy scoffs and says:  "Marika!  Some father she has!  Old man, Marika, left a long time ago."  The younger man throws Panagis out of the club. 

Liberation of Athens from the Germans.  There's a big celebration in the streets of Athens.

Markita watches.  With her is Yorgos and her daughter, who is telling Yorgos that she doesn't want to go to boarding school.  The daughter doesn't say goodbye to Marika and Marika doesn't say goodbye to her daughter.  The girl gets on a boat.

Babis, Marika, Matina and four others make a recording in a studio.  Marika sings solo. 

December 1944.  The British take over Athens. 

People are listening to Marika's recordings. 

Marika tours Greece. 

Civil War in Greece. 

Yorgos comes in to see Marika.  He asks if she is going to Chicago?  Yes.  He says he is returning to Athens.  She says:  "As you like, Yorgos."  She's accustomed to having important people in her life leave her.  He tells her he can't watch her anymore.  She has changed  --  she's become bizarre.  He then tells her that her child left school and the authorities are looking for her.  He heard that she is working cabarets down by the harbor.  And, once again, he pleads with Marika to go see her daughter.  But this time, Marika says:  "Yes, Yorgos.  I'll go to Syros and find her."  But, she is still going to Chicago.  She cries. 

The daughter dances in a night club in a belly-dancer outfit.  Marika grabs her as she comes by and asks her why is she is doing this to her mother?  The daughter spits out bitterness:  "Do you call yourself a mother?. . . Where were you when I needed you? . . . You remembered I existed suddenly?"  She tells Marika to go away. 

America!  Marika is in Chicago now.  She goes to a club and someone tells her that an older fellow is asking for her.  She goes to the back and the fellow gets up and they hug each other.   This man was the magician who was the father of her daughter.  Babis comes over and breaks it up.  Marika says to Babis that Babis kept his promises to her.

Descent to Hades.  Her baby's daddy is on his way up to see Marika in her room.  She goes over to a mirror, pulls her robe open to expose her breasts (brief nudity) and seems upset.  The fellow knocks at her door and asks if she is ready? 

Athens, 1956.  Babis and Matina are back in Athens.  Marika is still in Chicago.  Babis tells Yorgos that Rembetiko is dead in Greece.  Now the people want a much lighter music. He says that when Marika comes back Yorgos can have a tribute concert for her. 

Marika comes back to Athens.  Yorgos is there waiting for her.  She attends the tribute concert to herself.  She has tears in her eyes.  Babis waits in the back. 

Yorgos and Marika sit on a park bench.  They talk awhile.  Yorgos leaves and Marika stays seated on the bench.  She sees some revelers teasing a man who slashes at them with a knife.  The fellow is said to be mad.  All of a sudden the madman breaks through the encirclement and he stabs Marika walking toward the crowd.  She dies on the steps of a house.

A funeral is held for Marika.  A lot of people are there in attendance.  Her casket is put in the ground.  The musicians gather around and play a Rembetiko song for her.  The people dance along with the music.


Good movie.  It's also a sad film.  The film is loosely based on the life of Marika Ninou, a great Armenian-Greek singer of rembetiko music, which was a sad music based on the lives and the subculture of the refugees coming from Anatolia (in Turkey) to Greece.  I was happy to watch the film as it let me delve into the 20th century history of Greece.  If I didn't look up the history, I think the film would have been harder to understand.  Sotiria Leonardou (as Marika) was interesting to watch.  Her face is a bit different from the faces of Hollywood actresses and I enjoyed studying it intently.  So, I learn a little about the history of music and about the modern history of Greece.  Perfect! 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:


Marika Ninou was a famous rembetiko singer, who "'possessed a high-pitched voice of substantial body and volume and impeccable tonality, and sang with emotional intensity".

1922  --Μαρίκα Νίνου {Marika Ninou} (1922–1957) is born an Armenian-Greek rembetiko singer born on the ship Evangelistria which took her mother, her sisters and her brother to Athens from Smyrna among other refugees from Asia Minor.

1929  --  when she was seven years old, she started going to the Armenian school where she learned to play mandolin and was a member of the school orchestra. She also sang at the Armenian Church of St. Jacob.

1939  --  she marries.

1940 --  she give births to a boy named Ovanes.

1944  --  she meets an acrobat named Nino and marries him. They perform together as “The Duo Nino”. When her son joins them they are called “the Two-and-a-half Ninos”.

During one of her performances, the artist Petros Kyriakos hears her sing.  He recommends her to Manolis Chiotis. 

1947 --  Soviet ships arrive in Greece to take willing Armenians to Armenia.  Half the Armenian population of Thessaloniki and Athens leave. Her husband leaves her and Ovanes behind and goes back to Armenia. 

1948  --  Χιώτης records two songs with Marika.

1948 (October)  --  Stelakis Perpiniadis of the Florida club brings Marika under his wing.

By 1949  --  Marika begins working with Vassilis Tsitsanis at Fat Jimmy’s.  The teaming of Vassilis and Marika leads to the team having a very special place in the history of the music of Greece.

1951 (October)  --  Mirka and Vassilis perform in Constantinople.  After this, the two split up. 

Marika has a cancer operation in Athens.

1954  --  she heads off to the USA.  There her cancer spreads and she returns to Greece .

Marika works while under great pain.

1957 (Feb. 23)  --  Marika dies of her cancer at the age of 34.  She recorded a total of 174 songs, 119 as the leading singer.




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