So declares the pre-credits text in Z, one of the most ballsy political thrillers of all-time and one that makes no secret of who and what it’s about. The film’s narrative comes from the novel by Vassilis Vassilikos, who detailed the assassination of Greek MP Gregoris Lambrakis.
Though the inspiration is blatant, director Costa-Gavras creates a world that is entirely nameless. There is the slain Deputy (Yves Montand, a remarkable turn), the obstinate Magistrate (Jean-Louis Trintignant), and the curious Photojournalist (Jacques Perrin). They occupy an unnamed city. I’m not sure any film with a universal idea as powerful or real as that in Z should ever take place in a city with a name or noted population.
Z is a rare film, one that should be studied in both film school and political science lecture halls. It’s as relevant and significant in both style and theme as it was in 1969, a time of revolution in cinema and one year after both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated.
Here is a film as attentive to the corruption in the “real world” as it is the craft of filmmaking. Charged by Raoul Coutard’s hectic cinematography, Françoise Bonnot’s minded editing, and Mikis Theodorakis’ pulsating score, Z serves as the pinnacle for what the political thriller subgenre should be.
Z ends with a list of people and things forever banned. They include long hair, Mark Twain, and the letter Z. It means “he lives” in Greek. And he does.
Costa-Gavras on Z (19:32): The filmmaker sits down for a 2009 interview to discuss the importance of politics in his films, the production of Z, the timely release, and more. A fine substitute for a commentary.
Raoul Coutard Shoots Z (10:38): Also recorded in 2009, this interview features the cinematographer discussing the making of Z, comparing the style of Costa-Gavras to that of Jean-Luc Godard, and his work on The Confession, also by Costa-Gavras.
From the Archives houses three archival interviews. In the first, Vassilis Vassilikos (9:36) discusses his novel Z; the second is with Costa-Gavras, Yves Montand, Irene Papas, Jacques Perrin, and Jean-Louis Trintignant (5:06); and the third gathers comments from Costa-Gavras, Perrin, and Pierre Dux (3:48).
Also included with this Criterion Collection disc is a 12-page booklet with an essay titled “Sounding the Alarm” by film critic Armond Whie.