DVD Release Date: Oct. 27, 2009
Original Theatrical Release: Dec. 8, 1969
Writer: Vasilis Vasilikos, Jorge Semprún
Cinematography: Raoul Coutard
Starring: Yves Montand, Irene Papas, Jean-Louis Trintignant
Runtime: 127 minutes
Repressed Greek political thriller builds slowly but remains powerful and relevant
In the opening credits of this controversial effort from director Costa-Gavras, one can almost here this disclaimer sneered: “Any resemblance to real events, to persons living or dead, is not accidental. It is DELIBERATE.” Unpacking the political assassination of a pacifist party candidate (played by French pop/ film star Yves Montand) and the resulting investigation into the conspiracy that allowed it to unfold, Z takes place in an unnamed country. That it’s a scathing (and factual) denunciation of the corruption within Costa-Gavras’ home country of Greece only created grave problems for the film. Composer Mikis Theodorakis’s exhilarating score was composed while still a political prisoner of the regime (the tapes smuggled out of the country).
While it garnered an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1970, the FBI denounced the work as “unpatriotic” (it didn’t help that the U.S. was propping up the repressive regime) and shadowed its star Montand when he visited the U.S. It’s been mostly unseen ever since. What sets Z apart from other political pot-boilers of the era is not just its suspenseful and steady investigative eye, but also its brief but effective touches of satire. Comparing the populace to grape vines to be sprayed, the generals who brutalize their own people are exposed as buffoons by film’s end. That justice is served (only to become yet a defeat in its final moments) highlights the continued police-military-governmental corruption and struggle that can be witnessed all around the globe to this day.