Z (Costa-Gavras) DVD
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Directed by Costa-Gavras
Produced in 1969
Main Language - French with English subtitles
Costa-Gavras's double Oscar-winner from 1969 still burns as brightly as a firebomb. Its setting of political turmoil, corruption, riots and Greek tragedy is a potent mix, says Pete Hoskin.
'Political thriller', that's what they call Costa-Gavras's Z (1969) — and you can certainly understand why. This is, after all, a film that dwells on the assassination of a politician, and which peels back the layers of intrigue and culpability that surround his death. But it also does much more than simply reveal who killed whom and why. By wading through the murky politics of a country based on his native Greece, Gavras churns up one of cinema's fiercest attacks on state corruption and self-interest. It plays more like firebomb than anything else.
And, oh, how brightly that firebomb burns. Even with its grave subject matter, Z is a particularly exuberant piece of work. That is clear enough from the hyperactive editing, which keeps the film constantly pressing forwards, or in the energetic crowd scenes that recall Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers (1966). And there is exuberance, too, in the film's screenplay, which is considerably more wry than many first-time viewers might expect. Gavras and his co-writer Jorge Semprún may not go as far as Chaplin does in The Great Dictator (1940), but they clearly enjoy poking fun at the starched apparatchiks who are behind the assassination. Here, evil and ridiculousness are separated by the thinnest of membranes.
The film's humour doesn't just make it more easily watchable, but also casts its sombre moments in a starker, more jarring light. There is the assassination itself, of course, which puts a bloody end to Yves Montand's meticulous turn as a charismatic opposition leader. And then there is the grief that follows. Among the most affecting scenes are those featuring Irene Papas as the victim's widow, her black hair a frame for a face etched with doubt and sadness. In these moments, Z takes its time in showing just how tragically politics can impinge on individual lives.
So there we have it: political turmoil, corruption, riots, violence and Greek tragedy. It would be easy to say that Z is topical viewing for 2011, but that — like the 'political thriller' tag — doesn't quite cover it. Truth is, Gavras's film isn't just topical now. It's topical always, for ever more.
Z is a gripping conspiracy thriller set in an unidentified Mediterranean country under a totalitarian regime. When the pacifist leader of an opposition party (Z) is killed, a network of police and government corruption is uncovered.
This stunning political drama was based on actual events in Greece's history and its controversial nature led to the exile of the director, Costa-Gavras, amongst others.
Z was nominated for five Oscars in 1969, including Best Picture, winning two for Best Foreign Language Film and for Best Film Editing. It remains a stark reminder of the corrupting influence of absolute power.
Length: 127 mins
Format: DVD Colour
Released: 19th September 2011
Cat No: DAVID2199
- Australian import, plays in all UK DVD players
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