The Greek song “Ta Paidia Tou Piraia,” translated as “The Children of Piraeus” but better known as “Never on Sunday,” originates with Jules Dassin’s 1960 film of the same title. When the song won the 1961 Academy Award for Best Original Song, it marked the first time that the winning song was from a foreign film.
Sung by the lead actress in the film, Melina Mercouri (who later married Jules Dassin), the song describes the narrator’s love for her hometown, the port of Piraeus, as well as the uninhibited joy she gets from seducing men. The simple act of playing the record shows the character, Illya, beginning to break free of the Pygmalion relationship that her “mentor” Homer (played by director Dassin) has tried to impose on her. Instead of listening to classical music, Illya is singing about the kind of life she truly loves.
If you want to look at the lyrics, here they are (in both Greek and English), but more than anything I am captivated by Mercouri herself. She was luminous, her eyes and body language conveying as much as her husky voice, if not more. Mercouri shows in this scene why she is perfect for the role: she makes the song work in a cinematic context, accomplishing more than the lyrics and the sound of the bouzouki instrument alone.