Z (Costa-Gavras / France-Algeria, 1969):

Brecht would have approved: The Greece of the Lambrakis assassination is transposed to the (unbilled) Algiers of Pontecorvo. "Any similarities to actual persons or events are deliberate." The Strangelovian opening finds "The Colonels" enduring a fellow right-winger’s soporific metaphor (liberalism as "mildew"), and introduces the staccato Costa-Gavras rhythm. The big event in town is the arrival of not-Lambrakis-but-really-Lambrakis (Yves Montand), "ex-Olympic champ, college professor, and honest politician." The authorities try to dissolve the pacifist’s speech and inflame the crowds outside; opposition must be silenced, hired thugs (Renato Salvatori, Marcel Bozzuffi) deliver the lethal blow. The assassination is later recalled, freeze-framed, and replayed in smudged slow-mo. "Drunken fanatics" is the verdict preferred by the junta; the dead man’s comrades (including Bernard Fresson, Charles Denner, and Clotilde Joano) and a ferreting photographer (Jacques Perrin) convince the examining magistrate (Jean-Louis Trintignant) to dig deeper, catacombs of corruption are exposed. The cyclonic drive is all heat and outrage -- the continuous zooming and cutting on movement (people keep rushing into cars and taking off, trying to keep up with Raoul Coutard’s camera) has the effect of breathless scrambling for the truth before tyrants steamroll it into "official statements." The effect is also, unfortunately, one of building political ideas with ABC blocks so that every kindergartener in the audience will know the heroes from the villains. Slogans are thrown like confetti, characterization is done by dossier: Bozzuffi’s comic-sinister pederasty is such that he actually jumps and clicks his heels at the sight of a pinball-machine hunk, Irene Papas’ Mediterranean mask of grief doesn’t even require her to speak more than ten words. The swinish General (Pierre Dux) tries to throw dirt on the martyr ("Break his halo!") but collapses before the magistrate’s saturnine institutional j’accuse ("Dreyfus was guilty," Dux bellows). The aborted revolution gives way to further oppression as a new dictatorship seizes art and culture (the verboten list includes Sophocles, Albee, The Beatles, miniskirts and the alphabet itself). Music by Mikis Theodorakis. With François Périer, Georges Géret, Bernard Fresson, Magali Noel, Jean Boise, and Jean Dasté.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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