This film has a curious pedigree. It is based on a Greek novel which was adapted by a Spanish screenwriter. It is directed by a Greek director, but with French actors and actresses. The dialogue is in French, but the film is set in
. Although set in Greece Greece, it was mostly filmed in . Finally, it was officially an Algerian film when it won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Algeria
In the film a charismatic leader of an opposition movement in
is going to be coming to a city to give a speech. His supporters try to get all the necessary permits for the speech and rally, but the government officials stall them at every turn. When the leader still shows up he ends up being attacked by men who were hired by those same government officials. An investigation ensues, with the government trying to cover up the truth, and the judicial investigator trying to put all the pieces together. Greece
In some ways I felt this film was similar to the Akira Kurosawa film High and Low (1963). There is the first section where there are many tense scenes, followed by a detailed investigation into finding the bad guys. Like High and Low, I had the same reaction to the two sections: I was on the edge of my seat in the first part, and I was interested, but a little let down by the second part. No, “let down” isn’t the right description. Rather, after the tension of the first part, the second part didn’t quite have the oomph in comparison, especially when I as the viewer already knew what happened and who was responsible. As I said, though, I was still interested in it, especially in how the government continued to try to cover up what happened.
I suspect that I did not pick up on a lot of nuance in the film simply because I was not familiar with the events the movie was based on. Because the film didn’t go into much detail on who all these different government officials were, I had a hard time understanding who reported to who at first. As the investigation went along, those roles were put more into context and I was able to see the big picture. (I’m sure the 2008 movie W., which I just reviewed, will suffer the same fate. People forty years from now won’t know who all those different Bush advisors were or why they were taking the positions they were.)
One thing that Z does make very clear is who the actors were playing in the film. At the end (no spoilers) it shows a picture of the actor beside the real life person he was playing, and there is text telling what their fate was after the real events. The end of the film also explains the significance of the letter “Z” in relation to these events.
Celebrated French actor Yves Montand (Jean de Florette) plays the opposition political leader. It feels like he dominates the first section of the film, but in reality he has only twelve total minutes of screen time. There is so much buildup to his arrival, though, that it feels like he was onscreen much more (see also Harry Lime in The Third Man).
The second part of the film is dominated by Jean-Louis Trintignant (Three Colors: Red) as the judicial investigator. Although he is an independent arm of the government, there is still tremendous pressure put on his character by the government officials in the executive and military branches. They want him to close the case by declaring the attack to be an accident. Will he cave to pressure? Will the opposition leader’s supporters be able to get what they know to the investigator?
If you like political thrillers then you should definitely see this film. It has some great tension and it might inspire you to look into the real events depicted in the film. For everyone else, I recommend you give this film a try.
Note: I had to think for a little bit on what to rate this film. The first part I would give a strong four stars to because of the tension. The second part I would give three stars to because it was interesting. The first part is actually more like 1/3 of the movie and the second part is more like 2/3s. Because of this it weights the film towards the three star rating. If I gave half star ratings it would be 3.5 stars.
Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars