‘Z’ is a milestone political thriller directed by Greek expat Costa-Gavras. It’s one of the cinematic sensations and remains the most important political films of all time, based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Vassilis Vassilikos.
‘Z‘ the French movie was made in 1969 with its satirical view of Greek politics, its dark sense of humor, and its downbeat ending, the film captures the outrage about the military dictatorship that ruled Greece at the time of its making, also concealed the ideological intellect of a romanticized counter culture revolution backed by a revival in Marxist sentiments, as most of all, the story of Z (the novel and the film) relates to real events about the assassination of a charismatic Greek leftist leader Grigoris Lambrakis in May 1963 in Thessaloniki, followed by the scrupulous investigation, the government declares the event as an unfortunate accident. In real- Lambrakis death caused by the two right-wing vandals who run him over with a delivery truck in the aftermath of a large political rally, led to civil unrest and triggered an inquiry by the prosecution, which gradually exposed a system of corrupt police and army officials who had maintained close ties with paramilitary extremists, thus confirming the perception that the government itself had been behind the assassination. The film’s title refers to a popular Greek protest slogan in Greek language ‘Zi’, means “he (Lambrakis) lives”.
Besides this film marks the end of austere times of great political violence, the world caught between the cold war, the Vietnam conflict, Watergate scandal and a drastic culture and idealistic view along the people’s imagination of heightened emotions of doubt and paranoia of their very own governments, in the thought-provoking contrast to the domestic security breaches of the real life assassinations of Martin Luther King, President John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X. So this movie’s importance on the global context established very interesting and gripping conspiracy thrillers. The film was a sensation in its time and had tremendous resonance with American audiences, becoming one of the highest grossing foreign language films ever released in that market. The film works very well as a high octane, easy- to -grasp, technically excellent thriller.
This movie is an essential assessment of state sanctioned terrorism, Populist outrage against the establishment echoed across much of cinema in the sixties, and is also relevant to today’s world, the examples are so fresh in our memory about the Arab spring uprising of 2010’s we have seen the Government in Egypt, Syria and whole lot of nation under a totalitarian regime.
The story begins with the closing moments of a rather dull government lecture and the slide show on agricultural policy, after which the leader of the security police of a right-wing military-dominated government (Dux) takes over the podium for an impassioned speech describing the government’s program to combat leftism, using the metaphors of “a mildew of the mind”, an infiltration of “isms”, or “sunspots”.
The scene then shifts to preparations for a rally of the opposition faction where the Deputy (Yves Montand) is to give a speech advocating nuclear disarmament. It is obvious that there have been attempts to prevent the speech’s delivery. The venue has been changed to a much smaller hall and logistical problems have appeared out of nowhere. As the Deputy crosses the street from the hall after giving his speech, a delivery truck speeds past him and a man on the open truck bed strikes him down with a club. The injury eventually proves fatal, and by that time it is already clear to the viewer that the police have manipulated witnesses to force the conclusion that the victim was simply run over by a drunk driver.
Conversely thou’ they do not control the hospital, where the autopsy disproves their interpretation. The examining magistrate (Trintignant), with the assistance of a photojournalist (Perrin), now uncovers sufficient evidence to indict not only the two right-wing militants who committed the murder, but also four high-ranking military police officers. The action of the film concludes with one of the Deputy’s associates rushing to see the Deputy’s widow (Papas) to give her the surprising news of the officers’ indictments.
An epilogue provides a synopsis of the subsequent turns of events. Instead of the expected positive outcome, the prosecutor is mysteriously removed from the case, key witnesses die under suspicious circumstances, the assassins receive (relatively) short sentences, the officers receive only administrative reprimands, the Deputy’s close associates die or are deported, and the photojournalist is sent to prison for disclosing official documents.
Z’s inspiring cinematography, music and kinetic editing made the film a unique political statement. By and large made enormous waves and his craft to the political thriller genre contributed a new look in the art of film making. Gavras’s popularized and awakened a new interest in ugly problems of contemporary political history. His subsequent work in this vein was increasingly less prophetic and more shaded, with some serious probing of minds and souls. Many of those films starred Yves Montand, the director’s fetish actor.
The director Costa-Gavras own influences were the American and French films of his day. Z is a bit like an old Hollywood detective drama, with French New Wave-like flashbacks, freeze-frames, and roving cameras. You can notice that the movie keep you very engrossed and engaged with the character perpetrate and display the narrative into investigative nuggets. Especially, the fact finding and the context of the characters, in all with a single narrative is spell-bounding. His type of film making is much acquainted on the assassination plot from the directors like Gillo Pontecorvo’s “Battle of Algiers” and John Frankenheimer’s “The Manchurian Candidate”. I am sure the cinematic craft to update the political thriller in terms of commercial viability and success that Costa was able to derive is far reaching and commendable.
Looking at the influence drawn by Costa-Gavras in his young engage had been through his father, who fought against the Nazis in the left-wing Greek resistance movement, but after World War II was labeled a Communist by the country’s new government and imprisoned. This political blacklisting of his father precluded education in Greece for Costa-Gavras and denied permission to study in US. He instead moved to Paris, enrolled at IDHEC, assisted Rene Clair, Rene Clément, Henri Verneuil, Jean Becker, Jean Giono, and Jacques Demy gave him a grounding in form and his creative aspirations was promptly seen in the stylish assurance of his 1965 debut feature ‘The Sleeping Car Murders’, a murder mystery on a moving train in the tradition of Hitchcock’s ‘The Lady Vanishes’. His association with politically conscious actors Yves Montand and Simone Signoret become prominent.
Costa was very well informed on politics, and some of his inspirations are films of Francesco Rosi (Salvatore Giuliano, Hands over the City, and The Moment of Truth) and Gillo Pontecorvo (Battle of Algiers). His trend was distinctive and the pick of his political expose stories was oriented as thriller genre. Costa Gavras thoroughly been a very social conscious man, had a detailed knowledge and understanding of earlier cultural movement of Italian neorealism or Russian formalism and the New-Wave French film aesthetics. His brother who was still living in Greece, referred him to read new Vassilis Vassilikos’ novel and thus the idea of making ‘Z’ become real.
This film won both the New York Film Critics Circle Award and the Oscar for Best Foreign Film the same year. A movie, whose message still resonates even today, and still is enjoyable to watch this political thriller, deserves a place to be one of the greatest political thrillers of all time.
- Directed by Costa-Gavras
- Produced by Jacques Perrin & Ahmed Rachedi
- Screenplay by Jorge Semprún & Costa-Gavras
- Story by Vassilis Vassilikos
- Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant; Yves Montand; Irene Papas & Jacques Perrin
- Music by Mikis Theodorakis
- Cinematography: R aoul Coutard
- Editing by Françoise Bonnot
- Distributed by Cinema V (US)
- Release dates: February 26, 1969 (France)
- Running time: 127 minutes
- Country: France & Algeria
- Language: French