They don’t make films like Costa-Gavras’ Z anymore, and that is both a good and bad thing. It is good because the film offers a brutal indictment of military-run government corruption in Greece during the 1960s - the Western world is mercifully free of junta leadership, thus eliminating the need to denounce such regimes on film.
But viewed today, 40 years after its release, Z provides a significant reminder of the power of cinema to challenge the political status quo. Based on the Vassilis Vassilikos novel that was inspired by the 1963 assassination of left-wing Greek politician Gregoris Lambrakis, the film is boldly unapologetic in its depiction of government corruption and intimidation. The film presents the Greek military leaders as hysterical than anything vaguely left of center is a Communist plot that needs to be stamped out, and the cover-up of the government-sponsored assassination (which is exposed by a crusading prosecutor and a tenacious reporter) is an intricate tangle of conspiracies that reveal the contempt which the military has for the people it is supposedly defending.
Yves Montand as the slain political leader and Irene Papas as his wife are the nominal stars, but the real energy comes from Jean-Louis Trintigant as the humorless prosecutor who doggedly pursues the truth - even though his effort eventually bring about the 1967 coup that effectively shut down Greek democracy for seven years. And equal star billing goes behind the camera to Mikis Theodorakis for his innovative music score, Raoul Coutard’s documentary-style cinematography, and Françoise Bonnot’s Oscar-winning editing. Z also won the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar (it was entered by Algeria - the film was shot there, as junta-controlled Greece was obviously not going to accommodate this production).
Z should be required viewing for any lover of political thrillers. Four decades later, it still packs a wallop.
Z will be shown December 9 - 13, 2009 at the Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, Mass. For more information visit the Museum of Fine Arts website.