Z is for Z, a 1969 film by Costa-Gavras that is now considered to be a classic suspense thriller. The story is based on true events that occurred in Greece in May1963 when a pacifist statesman was assassinated (real name Grigoris Lambrakis). Z was highly regarded for its time for using unique filming techniques, and a storytelling style that was considered avant-garde. It is rated PG.
The film won Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Film Editing at the Academy Awards. It was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (lost to Midnight Cowboy). The famous French actor, Yves Montand, plays the progressive public figure that is assassinated. The Democratic politician is left leaning, charismatic and inspires the populace, just what the government doesn’t want to have happening. He is assassinated as he is making an anti-nuclear weapons speech. Initially, it appears he died as the result of an accident, but we find in the telling of the story that was not the case.
As the action and the investigation of the crime progressed, I thought to myself that this film has parallels to present day. Corruption is in every level of government including the military, the police, politicians, and their silence can be bought.
The other thing I noticed was that when the people were demonstrating, it began as a peaceful gathering, and then when the police intervened with their clubs and force, things got out of hand. There were no guns being brandished about, and even the assassination was not by gunshot. It was actually refreshing, and I thought how much better the world would be without everyone waving a gun around.
I liked the way the film had us learning about the way the assassination was carried out as the investigators found the truth for themselves and the investigation was brought to a conclusion. Not that it ended there, and this is not a story where justice is served. That in itself was depressing.
I also enjoyed the unique way they showed the widow Hélène (Irene Papas) as she recalls moments with her husband after his death. It served to emphasize his humanity, and show how cruel it was to silence him by assassination, taking him from the people who loved him the most and were closest to him. Corruption is ever present yet again, and those in power want to keep the control to themselves and stop at nothing to keep it that way.
The ending was chilling, as it listed the things the military regime banned after this incident. Not the finest moment for Greece, that is for sure.
I highly recommend Z (you’ll have to watch the film to the very end to discover why it is named this; I won’t give that away). If you’re at all interested in the history of film, the history of Greece, or if you want to see a cautionary tale for our times as events similar to this one could happen at any time again, sorry to say.