on 9 June 2011
I still remember the first time I saw this film, magnificent.
Z is a 1969 French language political thriller directed by Costa Gavras, with a screenplay by Gavras and Jorge Sempr¨²n, based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Vassilis Vassilikos. The film presents a thinly fictionalized account of the events surrounding the assassination of democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. 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.
Z stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as the investigating magistrate (an analogue of Christos Sartzetakis, who 22 years later was appointed President of Greece by democratically-elected parliamentarians). International stars Yves Montand and Irene Papas also appear, but despite their star billing have very little screen time compared to the other principals. Jacques Perrin, who co-produced, plays a key role. The film's title refers to the popular Greek protest slogan "¦¦¦Å¦É", meaning "he (Lambrakis) lives".
on 17 February 2013
This powerful political thriller has lost none of its impact - or relevance, even after nearly 45 years.
Based on a true story of political assassination in Greece, its events anticipates the political coup by Greek generals that followed. It even uses satire to ridicule the police, themselves responsible for the murder of a popular, left-wing Greek Deputy.
Military coups are often closer than one thinks, even in well established democracies. This great film by Costa-Gavras should still give us all pause for thought.
on 28 November 2003
Although it is seldom seen today, in 1970 Constantin Costa-Gavras' "Z" picked up both the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Picture and an Academy Award as Best Foreign Film. In the wake of the John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations of the 1960s and fueled by the later Watergate scandal, the film had tremendous resonance with American audiences, becoming one of the highest grossing foreign language films ever released in that market.
Based on the novel by Vassilis Vassilikos, which was itself based on the 1966 "Lambrakis Affair" in Greece, "Z" is at once a political thriller and satire. Set in an unnamed nation, it presents a politician who is strongly critical of American and Russian nuclear build up and his nation's participation in it. Denounced by the status quo as a communist, he is met with civic obstruction when he arrives to give a speech and afterward is struck down and killed by a speeding truck in the streets. A drunk driving accident, according to local officials. An assassination, according to his entourage.
Although the film has a somewhat slow and uncertain build, once fully underway it becomes a rapid-fire series of sharply edited scenes in which the sloppy assassination plot is unraveled by a dispassionate magistrate sent to conduct an investigation--an investigation plagued by assaults on witnesses and civic cover-up. But in such a corrupt society, can the full truth ever be known?
Director Costa-Gavras walks a very fine line here, presenting the characters as archetypes but endowing them with enough human emotion to engage our interests and sympathies. And the cast is remarkable, with Yves Montond, Irene Papas, and Jean-Louis Trintignant particularly notable. The script is at once chilling and covertly comic, jeering at officialdom around the corners of its more serious business, and the overall look of the film--particularly in the violent crowd scenes--is truly memorable.
The film has been restored to a pristine condition in its original widescreen and the DVD offers a number of language subtitles (including English) in easy-to-read yellow script. Bonus features are slight, but include the original trailer, samples of restoration work, and an extremely interesting conversation between novelist Vassilikos and director Costa-Gavras. Consta-Gravas also offers an audio-commentary--in French, which will be frustrating for those who (like me) do not speak the language.
Although some viewers may not even notice the satirical tone of the film, and while some will be put off by its distinctly liberal slant, I think most viewers--including those who don't normally care for foreign film--will find "Z" a fascinating ride, particularly if they enjoyed the likes of JFK or THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. Time may have dimmed the origins of the piece, but sadly the subject of governmental corruption and the mendacity of powerbrokers remains as timely as ever.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
The problem with revolutionary pieces of political cinema is that in retrospect they can appear dated and simplistic when compared to the more sophisticated films that follow them. Costa-Gavras' influential political thriller does suffer from that problem a little at times, but if diminished it is still powerful and effective stuff.
Dealing with the assassination of Montand's charismatic political opponent of a regime that is run by the military in all but name (unidentified in the film, it is clearly Greece under the colonels - among the list of things banned by the movie's regime is 'la musique populaire (M. Theodorakis)'. The film's composer was actually under house arrest at the time). The first half of the film covers his arrival and the events leading up to his death at a sabotaged political rally, the second following two parallel investigations into the hows and whys, that of Jean-Louis Trintignant's honest Attorney and co-producer Jacques Perrin's photo-journalist.
The film is dialogue heavy (with the honourable exception of Irene Papas, who, as in Zorba the Greek, remains almost mute throughout) and lacks the more effective investigative construction of Missing. It works against the film that we know what has happened - and more importantly, how - so early, since the result of Trintignant's investigation seems a foregone conclusion. It would perhaps have been much more effective if we had seen the various participants very different accounts of events first to draw our own conclusions alongside his.
Characterisation is also a sporadic weak point: while those on the sides of the angels all give good performances, only the charismatic Yves Montand seems to be a person we can care about rather than a political or moral position while the military figures are too clearly set up just to be knocked down and veer towards the comic book. Yet it retains an urgency and outrage that ensures that it still commands the attention. If not the masterpiece it was hailed as on its first appearance, it's certainly an excellent film and remains an important landmark in political cinema.
Criterion's impressive Region 1 NTSC DVD transfer is a big step up from the standards conversion release Koch Lorber put out a few years ago, though it sadly loses Costa-Gavras' audio commentary from that version, replacing it with on from Peter Cowie, but it goes some to compensating by including new interviews with Costa-Gavras and Raoul Coutard (who has a cameo as the doctor who operates on Montand) as well as archive interviews with Costa-Gavras, Jacques Perrin, Pierre Dux, Yves Montand, Irene Papas, Jean-Louis Trintignant and novelist Vassilis Vassilikos, the original theatrical trailer and a booklet.
on 31 December 2014
First of all: the dvd quality is stunning. playing it through a BD player on a 42" tv, it almost looks like a Blu Ray.
Definitely worth the excellent cinematography, visual style and athmosphere of the film. A film that's political, nervous, fragmented in its narrative style yet so good to look at, like many italian films from 1960/70 which Z was largely influenced by. Films like those directed by Francesco Rosi and Elio Petri, inspired by a deep, provocative and angry political view yet so brilliant in their storytelling and capable to catch an average audience attention. Z is like that, brilliant and cruel at the same time, oassionate and cold in its depiction and analysys of political dynamics and human ones, showing the ideology behind a coup d'etat and also observing how people involved act like animals, not in a judjemental way, but like we're watching beasts in a cage. See, for example, the fighting scenes or the attacks: people act unnaturally if you look at them like normal people, to the point that some scene are almost surreal. .
All the cast does its best, but Trintignant, as usual, sticks out with a great performance of underacting and understatement, this time in an unusual role: not one of his bad and mediocre guys roles, but a quiet and firm state officer.
on 23 May 2007
I have watched the film first in a film festival. If the festival showed this film only it would be enough. Later I have read the book also. The book is written by Greek writer Vasilius. The political environment is in Greece but same everywhere in the world. The left is always chased and harassed. The aggressors are organized illegally but receive police and government shelters. Those who try to investigate the events in an unprejudiced way are either bought or sacked or killed in the way. The film is a hit! All star cast deserves all the applause, also praise to Costa Gavras.
Although Greek-French film-maker Costa-Gavras’ intricate political thriller from 1969 might initially appear rather dated these days, the film’s mix of fast-moving plot, parodying of archetypal, corrupt politicians and quasi-documentary look-and-feel (courtesy of Raoul Coutard’s dynamic cinematography) still resonate in what was (certainly for its time) an innovative (and, later, influential) portrayal of its subject matter. Based on the true story of the assassination of Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis, Z (meaning 'he is alive’ in ancient Greek) calls to mind other political thrillers of the era, such as Pontecorvo’s The Battle Of Algiers and Costa-Gavras’ own Missing, as well as influencing later US political conspiracy films, particularly those of Alan J Pakula.
Although it’s quite clear where the film’s sympathies lie in terms of its portrayal of the insidiously corrupt political regime at its centre – 'ironically’ backed up by the blurb stating 'Any similarity to actual persons or events is deliberate’ and the film’s opening diatribe likening (leftist) political opponents to 'mildew’ – Z actually paints quite a complex, and frequently ambiguous, picture of the coercion of ordinary members of the populace into the pay of the ruling clique (whose 'call to arms’ is via the monarchy and the church). Acting-wise, the film is very much an ensemble piece, led (I guess) by its name star, Yves Montand’s visiting titular 'opposition senator’, but supported by an outstanding cast, notably Jean-Louis Trintignant as the calm, determined prosecutor; François Périer as the 'superficially outraged’ boss of Trintignant; Pierre Dux as the highly decorated, corrupt Mr Big (and ruling general); plus a cameo from Irene Papas as Z’s wife, Helene.
Thematically, as well as the obvious one of political corruption, the film also takes a dig at blatant sexism and the exploitative native of the media (the latter via Jacques Perrin’s impressive turn as a pushy photo-journalist). Another highlight is the film’s clever juxtaposition of scenes of rioting protestors with those of the country’s well-heeled attending the ballet (the Bolshoi to add further irony). Coutard’s camerawork is also worthy of particular mention with much slick editing, nice close-ups and effective slo-mo sequences.
Not a flawless film, for me probably 4½ stars would be most appropriate, but given Z’s importance as a forerunner film, it just about squeezes out a top rating.
on 30 August 2015
A British critic, Ian Cameron, summed up this acclaimed movie perfectly when he said it would be best enjoyed by those who liked to hiss the baddies, cheer the goodies and then leave the cinema convinced that they'd had a valuable intellectual experience. It's propaganda in the form of a thriller, which is often a good idea - people are supposed to attend the film thinking it's simply entertainment and then start thinking about its undertones. Unfortunately, as entertainment, "Z" is extremely feeble.The Greek colonels had been in power (as a result of a brutal military coup) for about two years when the film was made, and decent liberals all felt obliged to say how brave it was, in its fictionalised account of the murder case which sparked things off. Brave? Opportunistic is more like it. Director Costa-Gavras hopes (like Stanley Kramer before him and Richard Attenborough after him) that the theme will be enough to mask his rather severe shortcomings as a film-maker. Don't be fooled by him, or his movie. Characters are caricatures, especially the villains (who also often have ridiculous names), whilst the way the film keeps on not telling us that it's set in Greece starts off as cute and rapidly becomes incredibly annoying, with brand-names in Greek lettering being turned away from the camera so we can't quite see them, or a photo of the Royal Family being obscured by a light shining on their faces. The photography by Raoul Coutard is first-rate and Yves Montand, who has only a few minutes of screen-time despite being top-billed, makes a real impression as the murdered hero. Jean-Louis Trintignant also displays real star quality as the quiet, dogged investigator. The famous music by Mikis Theodorakis (some of it allegedly smuggled out of the prison in which the colonels had incarcerated him) is impressive. But the film presents such a cartoon of villainy, is so blatantly loaded, and so insistently preaches only to the converted, that its political value is as negligible as its entertainment value - until the last couple of minutes, when it at last becomes vividly alive and impressive with a horrifyingly calm wrap-up narration telling us that a military coup has prevented any of the villains being punished and led to the heroes being jailed or murdered. This is followed by a long, long list of everything the new regime has banned - the very things that the colonels actually did ban, and were still banning when the film was new. (The dictatorship was not overthrown until 1974). This brief coda is terribly effective, and belongs in a far better film.
on 14 July 2014
Compelling, very well-constructed, very clearly-plotted and written to ensure its broadly libertarian, democratic (appropriate for 'unnamed' Greece) ethos is persuasively drawn. An all-star Euro-cast pretty faultlessly convinces. You can even forgive the bits of comic mockery of the banal and preening (but dangerous) generals with their chests full of medals. Begins a bit like The Battle of Algiers promising to be even-handed as the 'leftists' debate action or pacifism, but, perhaps thankfully, settles down into a skewering of the corruption, police-stateism and inequality at the root of the problem. Doesn't aim to blame America or USSR but focuses on the Greek 'here and now'. I'd not seen it before, but the influence on 'All the Presidents Men' especially, and all the US paranoidal thrillers of the early 70s is clear. Unlike many a 'thriller', keeps going right to the end with its 'nouvelle vague' inspired finale. If you've not seen it, definitely worth "getting to see" 'somewhere'. Lastly I like the way that Costa-Gavras clearly sees the Yves Montand hero politician as flawed too. Trintignant is the humourless hero-judge workaholic for justice. A very Gallic and immoveable alternative to 'Woodstein's' excitability.
on 22 April 2013
"Z" was the first ever political movie I ever saw...and it made me realise how important political films were. Great acting and fantastic music. I have no problem with the so-called "liberal" slant of the film, because I am a Communist and proud of my humane, egalitarian left-wing politics. In fact, I do not like the American use of the word "liberal" for socialist / communist". "Liberals" in Britan, in my view can't make up their mind whether they are left-wing or right-wing. Pretty wet, though in the US, liberals are seen as Democrats, who in my opinion are still too reactionary and right-wing for my liking. In fact, there is no left-wing in America...just different shades of Blue. Another film by Costa-Gavros responsible for forming my politics, and my dislike of the CIA and Pentagon's interference in the governments of other countries, was "Missing"Missing [DVD] (1982). Neither should we forget "Salvador" Salvador--Special Edition [DVD], "Under Fire" Under Fire [DVD].