Z (Costa-Gavras, 1969)

From the novel by Vassili Vassilikos, based on the 1963 murder of opposition party deputy Gregorios Lambrakis, a liberal, that led to the military overthrow of democracy in Greece, Z—in ancient Greek, “He lives”—won a plethora of prizes, including the foreign-language Oscar and “best film” from the National Society of Film Critics and New York critics. The opening movement, culminating in the death of the unnamed Deputy, is indeed taut and brilliant, and the closing one close to shattering, with its series of freeze frames accompanied by oral reports and script indicating the legal and lethal outcomes of various participants in the crime, witnesses, those involved in the cover-up, the investigating magistrate, and the young photojournalist reporting the case (a closing technique, introduced here, that became standard practice in movies and television); but the long middle is slack, dull, occasionally silly, despite a host of marvelous performances (Charles Denner as the Deputy’s dedicated lawyer, François Périer as the Public Prosecutor, Jacques Perrin, who also co-produced, as the photojournalist with his persistent camera hidden in open view and, above all, Jean-Louis Trintignant—best actor, Cannes—as the magistrate, who is, despite his right-wing politics, relentless in pursuing justice), clever Oscar-winning editing by Françoise Bonnot, and evocative music by Mikis Theodorakis. The film’s Greek-born director, Costa-Gavras, who wrote the script along with Jorge Semprun, has since made much better Leftist films on political themes: State of Siege (1972), Missing (1982), Amen. (2002). Costa-Gavras, along with other members of his team, were banned from Greece.
     Every guilty person was found guilty, “even the generals,” the Deputy’s widow is informed: “It’s as if he were still alive.” Her face, though, shows this is not so and can never be—a studied, rigged moment in a superficial film.

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