Z is again in the news for the right reasons. Both — the latest Bollywood crowd-puller Shanghai and this film have been ‘inspired’ by Vasilis Vasilikos’ 1966 novel of the same name. One of the most politically audacious and insightful films, the film starts with the opening line that all resemblances are intentional. This defiant tone persists through the film.
The title interestingly stands for the first letter — Z — of the Greek word ‘Zei’ which means ‘He Lives!’, a popular graffiti scrawled on the walls in Greece in the 1960s, illustrating the angry unease against the assassination of Greek pacifist leader Gregoris Lambrakis.
And this film is a thinly fictionalised day-by-day account of the assasination as it took place. It dares to expose government corruption, the hypocrisy and cover-up in the wake of the political assassination of the left-wing, pro-peace political candidate in an unnamed country (strongly suggesting Greece), forcing his party members, a honest young magistrate and an ambitious reporter to uncover a murder conspiracy involving high-ranking officials.
The movie opens in a frantic scenario — the hall booked for an anti-military, nuclear disarmament rally by the popular leftist — the Deputy Zei (Yves Montand as the fictionalised Lambrakis) — has been cancelled last minute a few hours before the rally was to begin.
The supporters learns of an unconfirmed report that there will be an attempt on the deputy’s life. On the way to give a speech against the atomic bomb, he is brutally clubbed down (as was Lambrakis in real life) outside the auditorium by a group of right-wing extremists on a three-wheeled kamikaze in full view of a gaping public.
While the police stand by and do nothing to intervene, the official report is that of a drunken accident. The deputy succumbs to the fatal brain injuries soon after.
Following the death of the popular leftist, the examing magistrate as the diligent investigator (Trintignant) of the case, tries to uncover the truth while government officials attempt to cover up their roles.
Elsewhere, a newspaper photojournalist (Perrin) finds a witness to the event and he alongwith the upright magistrate investigate the strange case which slowly unravels to reveal that the so-called accidental death was a cold-blooded political murder orchestrated by the secret police and the general...
With a screenplay by Gavras and Jorge Semprún, like the original novel, Z the film too is a brutally honest political pronouncement sizzling onto the genre of a suspense-thriller.
Gavras has seen to it that the film has all the elements of moral drama, political intrigue, social dissatisfaction but each is covered with such elegant subtlety without the tempo slackening and losing its grip on the taut narrative.
With its satirical view of politics, its frequent flashes of dark humour, and its shocking, unexpected denouement, the film artfully manages to capture the fury and frustration of a rising revolution against the subtle brutality of a right-wing dictatorship.
It provides the the backdrop as well as plays the role of the hated antagonist. To match the innate terror underlying the film, its cinematography is crisp, unambiguous and forbiddingly stark.
The background score keeps pace with the taut suspense, sometimes rising to a haunting crescendo (as in the blood-curdling scene when a car tears down on a frantic, hapless Manuel as he desperately runs for his life) or crashing into scary stillness occasionally. It is raw, stark and unbelievably minimal sans any element of the maudlin or high emotional drama. Yet it is cold-bloodedly dramatic.
Exciting and intense, it never lapses for a single moment into the predictable. The denouement is as striking as the beginning.
The epilogue is stunning and as the closing credits roll, Costa Garvas lists out the the things banned from here on — peace marches, strikes, men sporting ling hair, Beatles, Mark Twain, Sartre, Chekhov, Pinter, Albee, Pinter, Samuel Beckett. And the letter Z. (Available at all DVD libraries)
Copyright 2008 Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. . All rights reserved.