Z (film)

The film Z is a 1969 political thriller directed by Costa-Gavras, with screenplay in French by the director, based on the novel of the same name by Vassilis Vassilikos.

The film presents a (barely) fictionalized account of the events surrounding the assassination of democratic Greek politician Gregoris Lambrakis in 1963. With its satirical view of Greek politics, its dark sense of humor, and its chilling ending, the film captures a sense of outrage about the military dictatorship that ruled Greece at the time.

The film stars Jean-Louis Trintignant. Although they are given star billing (because of their international status), Yves Montand and Irene Papas, are on-screen for a very short time compared to the other principals. Jacques Perrin, who co-produced, plays a key role.

Yves Montand playing the role of Gregoris Lambrakis.

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

The location of the action is not expressly stated at any time, but there is sufficient context to indicate that the un-named country is a stand-in for Greece in the early 1960s. In fact the filming mainly took place in Algiers.

In the opening credits, there is a disclaimer which reads (translated from French): "Any resemblance to real events, to persons living or dead, is not accidental. It is DELIBERATE."

The story begins with the leader the security police of a right-wing military-dominated government describing the government's program to combat leftism, using the metaphors of "a mildew of the mind", an infiltration of "isms", or "spots on the sun".

The scene shifts to the preparations for the Deputy (Montand) to arrive to give a speech at a rally of the opposition faction. After giving his speech, the Deputy is run down by a delivery truck and suffers a fatal brain injury. The Examining Magistrate (Trintignant), with the assistance of the Photojournalist (Perrin) uncovers sufficient evidence to indict not only the two right-wing militants who committed the murder, but also four high-ranking military police officers. The action of the film concludes with one of the Deputy's associates rushing to see the Deputy's widow (Papas) to give her the surprising news.

Instead of the expected positive outcome, however, the prosecutor is mysteriously removed from the case, the assassins, though convicted of murder, receive (relatively) short sentences, the officers receive only administrative reprimands, the Deputy's close associates die or are deported, and the Photojournalist is sent to prison for disclosing official documents.

As the closing credits roll, instead of listing the cast and crew, the filmmakers list the things banned by the junta. They include: peace movements, strikes, labor unions, long hair on men, The Beatles, other modern and popular music ("la musique populaire"), Sophocles, Leo Tolstoy, Aeschylus, writing that Socrates was homosexual, Eugene Ionesco, Jean-Paul Sartre, Anton Chekhov, Mark Twain, Samuel Beckett, the bar association, sociology, international encyclopedias, free press, new math. Also banned is the letter Z, which has been scrawled on the sidewalk as the film's final image, as a symbolic reminder that "the spirit of resistance lives" (zi = "he lives").

Scene from the Film with a Picasso Painting of Nikos Beloyiannis

Z was nominated for many top awards, including an Oscar for Best Picture and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Languge Picture, and was named best film by the New York Film Critics Circle Awards and National Society of Film Critics Awards. The film was also nominated for a Golden Palm award at the Cannes film festival. It won the Oscar awards in the editing and foreign film categories. The soundtrack, by Mikis Theodorakis, was also a hit.


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