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"Z" — A Bullz-Eye DVD Review

November 28, 2009


A film about Greece, made by an expatriate Greek director, but featuring an all-star French-speaking cast, “Z” is, alongside John Frankenheimer’s “The Manchurian Candidate” and Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend,” one of the most important political films of all time. Even if, artistically and in terms of sheer entertainment, it’s not quite on the same level as either of those masterpieces, it had an immediacy those films lacked. Unlike Godard and Frankenheimer, director Costa-Gavris wasn’t only working out of political conviction, he was trying to free his homeland.

Shot and financed in the former French colony of Algeria, “Z” is based on a thinly fictionalized novel by Vasilis Vasilikos detailing the 1963 murder of pacifist leader Gregoris Lambrakis and the investigation that followed. Presaging the John F. Kennedy assassination by several months, the killing helped set the stage for a full-scale fascist military takeover of Greece, which lasted from 1967 to 1974. That, in turn, set the stage for Costa-Gavris, a promising young director hot off the success of his first film, “The Sleeping Car Murders,” to recruit a cast of mostly French stars to participate in a film designed specifically to raise a worldwide alarm. With the tacit acceptance of the U.S. and Western Europe, the world’s cradle of democracy was harboring a totalitarian regime that regularly tortured and murdered dissidents and had banned everything from the Beatles and long hair, to Mark Twain, Dostoyevsky, and a certain letter of the alphabet. With “Z,” Costa-Gavris made sure the world knew that.



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