Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan


(Algeria, France, 1969)

Z (1969) (Algeria, France) Z was a letter written on walls in Greece as the country was descending into a right-wing hell. It stood for “He Lives!” to the liberals of the time. And “he” was Grigoris Lambrakis, a Greek politician who was assassinated. His funeral was attended by 500,000 angry people. But the murder investigation was hindered by a fascistic and fanatical right-wing military who went on to organize a coup d’état, known as the Regime of the Colonels, in 1967. They ruled Greece until 1974.

Though this film is set in Algeria with French-speaking people, there was absolutely no secret who director Costa-Gavras had in mind. The film opens with the words “Any resemblance to real events, to persons living or dead, is not accidental. It is DELIBERATE.” It is easy to draw direct connections between his fictional Algerians and the real Greeks who orchestrated this travesty. It is not a total Roman à clef, and it doesn’t need to be. Changes were made for dramatic purposes, which was necessary due to the rather dry business of a police investigation. One aggressive journalist, for instance, represented half a dozen reporters in the real story. But the character of the Examining Magistrate, played by Jean-Louis Unpronounceable (okay, his name is Trintignant; you try to pronounce it!) was Christos Sartzetakis, the man who would not be pushed into covering it all up. In fact, he got indictments against the murderers and several colonels who set the assassination in motion. Hurray!

… except it was virtually all reversed. The colonels got slaps on the wrist, a blot on their copybooks, as the British would say. Even that was erased when they took power. The actual killers got lenient sentences. As for Sartzetakis … he was fired, jailed for a year, and tortured in captivity. The good news is that after the colonels were toppled in ’74 he eventually became the President of Third Hellenic Republic, from 1985, to 1990! He is still alive.

This movie was revolutionary for its time, and is extremely well-told. Costa-Gavras did the same thing that Alan J. Pakula would do in 1976 with All the President’s Men, that is to somehow make even the static scenes of interrogation be full of tension. This film put him on the map of world cinema, winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language. Since then most of his films have been political in nature, left-wing in attitude. Which is great in my book. It is the film that spawned the whole genre of political thrillers, and it still thrills today.