Classic Film Review: Z (spoiler warning)

I have recently viewed Z, directed by Costa Gavras. Z is a political thriller about the assassination of a Greek presidential hopeful named Grigoris Lambrakis who was running on an antinuclear and Nonaligned platform. Lambrakis was a real Greek politician though the story told in Z is highly fictionalized; interestingly it begins with a disclaimer saying that “any resemblance to real persons or events is intentional.”

The opening dialogue discusses methods used to prevent mildew in French vineyards, and it is revealed to be a lecture given by a general to several other uniformed officers; the general goes on to explicitly link this with preventing the spread of Communism in Greece. I knew what he was getting at from the first mention of mildew. This sets the stage for the rest of the film. Before Lambrakis even appears, several of his campaigners are shown preparing for a rally and are inform that someone is out for him.

Much of the suspense of the film is whether he will be killed, and when he is killed then the focus on just who was responsible. Was it the Communists? Nationalists? Army? Police? Random act of mob violence? Unfortunately even before seeing the film I knew that it was the military responsible. A group of street thugs are followed and shown instigating riots, and it is later revealed that they were planted by the military, which reminded me of all the other examples of astroturfed resistance against democratic leaders like Arbenz and Mossadegh. Interestingly absent from Z is the USA and USSR. Both are mentioned on numerous occasions and Lambrakis made it clear he opposed either side having the bomb and that he would make Greece neutral, but no Americans or Soviets are anywhere to be seen. I really liked this because it helped to focus in on Greece, which is portrayed as being heavily partisan.

Not only does this movie give an excellent look at pre junta Greece, it is also an excellent film on an artistic level. The cinematography is naturalistic, not obviously staged like most Hollywood films. Because it depicts contemporary events, the clothes seen are totally authentic and not costumes. One thing that interested me is that many of Lambrakis’ young supporters are shown wearing clothes very similar to those worn by the mods, teddy boys, and beats of Britain. Filming was done in Algeria, though I couldn’t tell it wasn’t Greece. One thing that annoyed me was that all of the dialogue is in French and not Greek, and signs and documents shown are written in French and English. Not using Greek really distracted me from the fact it was supposed to be Greece and somewhat took away from the realism. Other than that the film is excellent storytelling.

The impression I got from Z was a cynical portrait of Greece as a heavily troubled place where people got killed for not being extreme enough. The sympathy of the film is definitely given to the Left, but it hardly glamorized them. Admittedly I know little about Greece during this period, but I feel that after seeing Z I understand the situation much better. All of the significant factions that vied for power are present, and their interactions are entertainingly shown. Overall I would say that Z is an excellent work that succeeds on all counts.

Zed

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