By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on November 28, 2009)
Z – Criterion Collection DVD
This 1969 film was a breakthrough for director Costa-Gavras, and a high-watermark for the “radical chic” cinema that flourished at the time. Yves Montand plays a leftist politician who is assassinated after giving a speech at a pro-Peace rally. What at first appears to be an open and shut case of a violent action by an isolated group of right wing extremists unfolds as a suspenseful conspiracy thriller.
The story (set in an unspecified Balkan nation, but based on the real-life assassination of a Greek political figure back in 1963) is told from the perspective of two characters-a photojournalist (a young Jacques Perrin, future director of Winged Migration) and an investigating magistrate (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The great Irene Papas is also on board as Montand’s wife.
The film is a bit of a stagey talk-fest for a political “thriller” but it is still essential viewing. It’s part Kafka, part Rashomon, but ultimately a cautionary tale about what happens when corrupt officialdom, unchecked police oppression and partisan-sanctioned extremism get into bed together. Criterion’s edition has a beautiful, restored print. Extras include a commentary track and interviews.