Directed by Costa-Gavras
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 127 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 French
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: October 27, 2009
Review Date: October 14, 2009
The most remarkable thing about Costa-Gavras’ political thriller Z is that it’s both a period piece and an astonishing modern tirade against the evils of despotic regimes of any time and place. Based on real political intrigues in Greece during the 1960s, Z doesn’t need to name people or places for us to get the message. The horrifying stifling of freedoms amid the iron fist of extremist rulers threatened by even the mere stirrings of unrest crackles from the screen for every moment of the film’s 127-minute running time and resonates across the decades as a chilling reminder of the heinous nature of fascist control. And seeing the film after so long a time also brings to mind the student unrest and minority marches and protests in our own country during the 1960s, all reflected in this still-remarkable work.
Left-wing, pro-peace political candidate Deputy Z (Yves Montand) in an unnamed country with a military dictatorship in power is assassinated before hundreds of witnesses in the street after a pro-peace rally, and yet his various deputies and witnesses(some of them likewise attacked) and an ambitious young magistrate (Jean-Louis Trintignant) are left to uncover the complex trail of conspiracy that leads to the highest-ranks of the ruling right-wing government.
Costa-Gavras and Jorge Semprún collaborated on the screenplay based on the novel by Vassilis Vassilikos, and their version mixes the timeliness of the student uprisings of the late 1960s with the political unrest going on in many parts of Europe at the time. Politics are at the core of the story, and yet it’s as crackerjack a thriller as The Battle of Algiers, The Day of the Jackal, or Costa Gavras’ own Missing. Gavras adopts an in-your-face style of filming these scenes that gets under one’s skin. The ugliness and viciousness of the militarists’ scorn for the people is so firmly established that it seems to seep from the pores of these cocksure leaders. And yet, the film focuses on its two true heroes, both rather nondescript people who brave the might of the military junta to try to see that justice prevails: the magistrate who calmly gathers his intelligence from numerous sources (many frightened to make the commitment to speak up for fear of their lives) and a wily photojournalist (Jacques Perrin) who craftily snaps pictures of the guilty parties while they’re so busy covering their tracks they don’t notice he’s on to them. As the pieces of the puzzle come together despite the government’s continual attempts to have witnesses killed or evidence hidden, and the various protesting leaders are escorted one at a time to hear their sentences, one gets a terrific sense of justice prevailing even in a country where justice seems to be an unknown quantity. Ah, but fate has further cruel tricks to play before the film reaches its conclusion.
Though his role in the film is relatively small, Yves Montand makes a commanding presence as the assassinated deputy. Always impressive when acting in his native language, Montand’s spirit hovers over the film (and in the many flashbacks) throughout its running time. Jean-Louis Trintignant’s magistrate doesn’t get many great emotional moments until the sentencing sequence, and even then he’s pretty firmly under control, but his quiet authority and sense of fairness is a necessary thread running through the picture. Jacques Perrin’s (who also co-produced the movie) nimble-footed, self-interested journalist steals several scenes as slickly as he steals pictures of the suspects while Jean Bouise’s Pirou, an injured deputy some of the thugs mistook for Montand’s Z, also impresses with his calm dignity. Pierre Dux’s General has the smoldering smugness of a new age Goebbels while Marcel Bozzufi injects some perverse charm into his evil assassin Vago. Somewhat disappointing is Irene Papas as Z’s emotionally constrained wife who doesn’t seem as intensely involved in the proceedings as one might expect.
The film’s 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in an anamorphic widescreen transfer. There are several scratches and print anomalies still present in the image, and color, while usually strong, tends to waffle a bit in clarity and intensity. The film’s medium grain structure has been admirably retained, but sharpness is not always consistent. The white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track is very typical for its era. There is a slight buzzing in the audio that is subtle but persistent especially in the latter half of the film, and there is also some light hiss present from time to time. Otherwise, the sound is pretty much what you would expect in a forty-year old movie.
The audio commentary by film historian Peter Cowie is superb offering both historical background in the politics of the era as well as the cinematic history of the principals before and behind the camera along with some astute analysis of the movie itself. It’s a track you’ll likely want to listen to more than once.
Director Costa-Gavras is interviewed about the film in a 19 ½-minute anamorphic featurette filmed in 2009. He talks mostly about the parallels to the real-life events shown in the film and is justifiably proud of the film today.
Cinematographer Raoul Coutard discusses his experiences making the film with Gavras and compares the experience here with working with both Godard and Truffaut, both of whom he found more difficult. This 10 ½-minute featurette in anamorphic widescreen was made in 2009.
Vassilis Vassilikos, author of the original book, gives an interview filmed in 1967 talking about the work as a piece of historical fiction/nonfiction. Shown in 4:3 black and white, this interview lasts 9 ½ minutes.
A 1968 interview made during the filming of the movie features director Costa-Gavras, and co-stars Yves Montand, Irene Papas, Jacques Perrin, and Jean-Louis Trintignant. In 4:3 black and white, it lasts 5 ¼ minutes.
Interviews with Costa-Gavras, Jacques Perrin, and Pierre Dux after the release of the movie in 1969 run for a too brief 3 ¾ minutes and are also in 4:3 black and white.
The original theatrical trailer is in anamorphic widescreen and runs for 3 ¾ minutes.
The enclosed 14-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, some evocative stills from the movie, and a paean to the movie by film critic Armond White.
4/5 (not an average)
Winner of numerous international awards including the Best Foreign Film Oscar as well as Best Picture from both the New York and National Society of Film Critics, Z remains as politically relevant and cinematically gripping as any current thriller, and this Criterion release contains some excellent bonuses to go along with the memorable film. Recommended!