For years knowing that there was a filmmaker who pretentiously chose to go by the name "Costa-Gavras" bothered me nearly as much as knowing that there was also a filmmaker known as "M. Night Shyamalen", and even worse, "McG". No, that wasn't why it took me so many years to finally see "Z", his much-discussed 1969 political thriller - just inertia and an overload of other entertainment choices. Got this from the local library, actually, which is fitting given its tre-sixties look, feel and political subject matter. I was expecting something fast-paced and a little dark; I was surprised at how much more like manic 60s films like, say, "BLOW-UP" or "BEDAZZLED" this was, as opposed to, I don't know - "The Battle of Algiers".
This isn't to say that "Z" is a total full-on swinging-sixties montage of miniskirts and rocknroll. Yet it was filmed in glorious rainbow-drenched technicolor, and Costa-Gavras' intensely jumpy editing style (which kudos to him, works great here) heightens the youthful, playful feel of the movie, despite its somewhat bleak subject matter. This is a leftist, youth-in-revolt sort of film that nonetheless keeps its overt politics in check while being a straightforward black-and-white portrayal of how a brutal European military dictatorship might come to power at a time when youth are pushing back against years of bland, conservative, crown-and-bible, backward-looking government. While Costa-Gavras himself saw this very sort of anti-revolution happen in his home country of Greece in 1963, this film is entirely in French - though very little makes it stand out as taking place in "France", per se. I kept picturing coastal Greece while watching it, despite the language being spoken.
The film moves at a brisk pace, and concerns the investigation into the murder of a crusading leftist politician whom the rebellious youth are marching in the streets for. The conservative, military-dominated government vows to crush this man and his movement, and they act to do just that in stealth, by mobilizing the dumb, clueless hoards to do their violent, reactionary dirty work for them. An investigating judge pieces together what happened leading up to the politician's murder, and encounters resistance and lies from the government. Meanwhile, witnesses are being murdered or chased down in the streets by hired thugs. Just when you think the good guys are going to win....well....I won't tell ya.
Again, this is a real time capsule piece but one that's fairly dazzling to watch, with great side-of-frame moments like the police cutting off a hippie's hair, close-ups of the Russian beauties from the Bolshoi ballet (in town for a peace offering from the Soviets) and multiple agitprop political posters on the streets of the city. The final minute of the film is intense and almost comic in its harshness - and and in its ultimate predictability during the previous two hours. Oh, and the bouzouki- driven soundtrack is great and is deployed at exactly the right moments in the film. Glad I caught this, and hope you do too.