Z (1969): Greece Creates Democracy; Millennia Later, Stomps All Over It

I’m a bit of a misanthrope by nature; not in that I hate and distrust all people, but I am incredibly suspicious of the wealthy, elite, and powerful. I believe our deeply held societal values and cultural mores were designed with the purpose (at least partially) of keeping the wealthy rich, and the rest of us subjugated to them in some way (most often for sustenance). In particular, while most people see the government as working for the people, I view governmental bodies as more of a lap-dog for the wealthy. Working in corrections, I can vouch that crime (particularly in regard to convictions and sentencing) is categorically different for those with money and power than it is for the poor and disenfranchised.

See? I am a filthy commie (ahem – socialist).

Given these radical views, you’d probably be surprised to learn that I am staunchly anti-conspiracy theory. It’s not that I don’t believe the government or giant organizations wouldn’t deceive the public; it’s more that I don’t have faith in their capacity to pull off such intricate plans undetected. If you look at most conspiracy theories, they are so incredibly elaborate and involve such a large number of people, that it would be a miracle for everything to go smoothly enough to evade detection. Do I believe that the mafia possibly hired Oswald to assassinate Kennedy? Perhaps. Do I believe this complex plan also included a second shooter and consisted of the entire secret service intentionally slacking off on security? Not for a second, even before I saw a two-hour special scientifically debunking each piece of evidence (including the ridiculous “magic bullet”).

Z (1969) is a perfect example of why I struggle with conspiracy theories – the conspiracy in the film, while successful at the time due to the power of the people involved, does not go unnoticed. In fact, it is incredibly easy to identify and prove the conspiracy; however, how does one hope to prosecute the people in power? Conspiracies are not nearly as subtle as those involved would like to believe, as true stories like this remind us.

Synopsis: Z tells the story of the assassination of Greek democratic politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963 by right-wing extremists following an anti-war speech.

“Any similarities to actual people or events is deliberate.”

And so we start the film, aware that at least part of what we are to see actually happened. Of course, it’s important to be careful with such political films; Z has a clear message it wants to convey, and it risks at times coming across as propaganda. Just as people who disagree with Michael Moore can use his slanted storytelling as an excuse to reject all information provided in his films, I fear those unsympathetic to the anti-war and leftist movements would similarly decry this film as false and ignore the facts that are known to be true. So before we dive into all that intensity, let’s look at this film from a strictly entertainment perspective.

Z, directed by Costa Gavras, is a taut, intelligent thriller. This is one of those films for which the less said about it, the better. It is a tight tale of political intrigue with a talented cast, solid dialogue, a fascinating story, and unobtrusive (but effective) direction. The verite feel is enhanced by very minor touches that nevertheless add the sense of authenticity. For instance, how often in movies do the characters drive recklessly and commit acts of serious violence in public, without any indication from bystanders that anything out of the ordinary has occurred? But in Z, people witness the crimes! The police show up and take statements! All the action unfolding on-screen is more believable because the characters in the film act the way real people would, rather than the way movie people would.

(Sidebar: I have a running discussion with the hostage, who is certain of his ability to kick any ass in any situation. He often gets angry at characters on-screen when they don’t act the way movie heroes have taught us to act. I, on the other hand, prefer to see people behave on-screen the way I imagine I would behave; by which I mean crying, running, and hiding – there might also be some limb-flailing involved).

So anyone, regardless of political beliefs, should be able to enjoy this film for pure entertainment value, as it is certainly entertaining. However, Gavras (a native Greek, although the film was funded by the French and shot in Algiers to bypass the junta’s censoring eye) had a point to make with this film. He lived through the military junta, and clearly believes that the military was intimately involved in the assassination of Lambrakis. This film helps to capture the fury many Greeks felt toward the junta at the time the film was released. Yet more than just a popular opinion of the time, the evidence decades later reveals the film to be very accurate in its depiction of the incident, which brings me back to my initial point: Lambrakis was assassinated in 1963; the novel Z was published in 1966, and the movie made by 1969. Even so close to the event, the conspiracy was evident – there was just nothing the public could do about it. Those involved were blatantly obvious with their methods, as they knew (correctly) that those in power would protect them. If you aren’t convinced of the conspiracy by the end of the movie, I can’t imagine making it through the epilogue unmoved. But again, what could any member of the Greek populace do in defiance?

Well, make a movie perhaps. This film acts as a plea to the rest of the world to acknowledge the wrongs that had been inflicted on the people of Greece, and apparently was effective in increasing the world’s knowledge of the military junta (well, let’s just say it – dictatorship) and their treatment of the democratic ideals. The film ends with a list of items and activities banned during their rule, which include peace movements, strikes, Mark Twain, and the free press. Oh, also the letter Z, which in Greek means “he lives”; the letter became common graffiti in the name of Lambrakis and the resistance movement.

Best Scene: While the movie is full of thrilling moments, none is quite as profound or powerful as the epilogue, in which we learn the outcome of our heroes tireless efforts.

Key Quote: Wait… did that guy… no seriously, did he just “hiel Hitler”?!

Fun Fact: Z was originally not released in the United States, as America supported the Greek military junta at the time, seeing the government as representing a stand against Communism (geez, how many times do they have to step in that one? See: Cambodia). When Z was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture in 1969, it finally received a theatrical release, although J. Edgar Hoover reportedly publicly asserted that no loyal American would ever pay money to see the film.

Until the next,


~ by K. Harker on June 6, 2011.

One Response to “Z (1969): Greece Creates Democracy; Millennia Later, Stomps All Over It”


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