OK, time is getting on, and I’m spent. But I’m going to ask you a question. Do you ever get the feeling that slowly but surely, things are falling apart and that shit is starting to get real in a very bad way? That the old certainties in our comfortable society are nothing but mere lies, and that if you lifted the lid that covers the actions and motives of our governments with a gossamer thing layer of respectability, then all you can see the a dark, seething abyss of evil, hate, incompetence and greed? Oh, you do? Oh it wasn’t just me then!
Every day we’re getting increasingly bombarded with news of the actions of the state against its populace, where it seems to be an outright ideological war on its citizens that even the likes of Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine,’ would have been hard-pressed to predict and comprehend. Global level spying and surveillance, the kettling and arresting of peaceful demonstrators on spurious charges, the cozy ties between politics and big business interests, the gradual wearing away of individual freedoms, and the plan to relentlessly dismantle the appartus of the state itself, from welfare and the health service, to higher education and national broadcasters, replacing them with neoliberal style dead eyed private concerns that will set out to bleed us all dry and throw us on the scrap heap afterwards.
And that is just in places like the UK and Iceland. in countries all over Europe, it’s even worse, with countries like Spain, Italy, and France.suffering huge unemployment and social unrest. The worst is in Greece where the rise of the Nazis of Golden Dawn and their brazen terror and thuggery (with complicit support from sections of the police and the state) had been disturbing and shocking to see.
It’s situations like this which makes a classic film such as Z all the more potent and resonant today, more than ever. Directed in 1969 by Greek director Costa-Gravas, and based on the novel of the same name by Vassilis Vassilikos, It may not have been the first film to be given the tag of a “Political Thriller” (Films like ‘The Manchurian Candidate,’ and ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ had elements of the political thriller genre), but it was certainly the first of its kind to be so overt in its denunciation of the mechanics of a state’s oppression of its population.
The film is set in a Mediterranean country where although there is a parliament with a semblance of due process and elections, in reality it is the military junta who are in chanre, and they rule the country with an iron fist, crushing dissent and ruling the country though a mix of manipulation and state terror. Despite this, an opposition democratic pacifist group tries to initiate change. the film shows the group trying to organise a rally against nuclear armament where the Deputy of the group is to give a speech. However the group are continuously thwarted by bureaucratic roadblocks set up by the military to prevent it from going ahead. On the night of the rally, the Deputy is attacked in a hit and run incident that has been set up by the police. He dies in hospital, and the police initiate the process of a cover up. But the work of a photojournalist and an investigative magistrate unravels the cover up and sees indictments against the militants responsible as well as four high-ranking military police officers.
Although it is a French film it is well-known that Z is based on the events in Greece in the 1960s, when the country was under military rule. Indeed the assassination of the deputy mirrors that of the assassination of democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963 . It´s no mistake that during the film’s opening credits (containing fast cuts of the regalia of military medals and honours, as well as images of the state religion), the phrase “ANY SIMILARITY TO ACTUAL PERSONS OR EVENTS IS DELIBERATE.”
“Z” was a film where everyone involved has a serious stake in getting the film made. The writer Vassilikos had been driven into exile after writing “Z,” and costa Gravas would end up following him after the film was made. The composer of the soundtrack, Mikis Theodorakis, was already under house arrest by military, yet still managed to get his approval to Costa Gravas to use his music in the film.
Despite the inherent problems and dangers in making the film, Z managed to strike a populist nerve both inside and outside of Greece, where it would go on to win the best actor award at Cannes, Win a Golden Globe and be nominated for best foreign picture at The Oscars. It managed to tap into the level of mistrust and anger people were feeling towards those in charge all over the world, from the student uprisings that occurred in France, to the counter cultural movements that were occurring all over Europe and the US.
And it’s not surprising. Z is an angry film in the truest sense of the word. the way it builds up the level of rage your feel towards the injustices imposed on the group by the military generals is expertly crafted. In the opening scenes, you see the banality of the state in full effect. We’re treated to a meeting of the generals & secret police where the camera gazes on their saggy, pallid faces, and eyes full of boredom as a General gives a boring 2nd rate ideological speech comparing communism to mildew. But as the film progresses, and Costa-Gravas build up the tension, you see the full horror and power of the state apparatus in action, as a network containing the police, the press, militant boot boys and businesses who are brought together by the same far right ideology, act in cahoots to suppress democratic opposition, all the way up to committing murder. As the end of the movie reaches its climax, the thrill is slightly unbearable as the film’s protagonists manage to collect the evidence and facts needed to strike a blow for justice and bring indictments against those responsible. But in true realist fashion, Costa-Gravas reminds us that in the real world, the bad guys often win. A simple epilogue scene at the end plays out in deadpan fashion, the actions of the Junta that shows the real powers of the state in removing threats to their power. It’s enough to make you put your foot through the screen screaming “MOTHER. FUCKERS!!”
Despite being over 40 years old, the power of Z has remained undimmed. Despite the majority of the dialogue and the plot resembling that of a standard procedural thriller, the fast kinetic style of editing as well as the documentary feel of the cinematography, give the film that sense of things happening in real-time. It wears its politics and emotions on its sleeve, but it is all the more powerful for it, being not so much about left vs right, but the idea of the rights and will of the people against the right of the privileged few. It speaks truth to power, in a ways that few films have managed to do since.
If you need any more reminding of why you should rarely (if ever) trust the bastards in power and their motivations, then give this film a whirl and start thinking about how you can do your bit to help your fellow man against an unjust system.