Monday, November 09, 2009

The Essential Collection: Z

Z (Costa-Gravas, France/Algeria, 1969)

In retrospect, a lot has been made of the Academy Awards for 1969 when Midnight Cowboy took Best Picture and Z took Best Foreign Film, mostly because the Academy seemed to grow a pair of balls that it rarely has shown in the years since. Aside from its political tone, there is nothing in Z that couldn't be found in a well-made thriller to come out of Hollywood in the 70s. That's more than likely the reason that it was met with an embrace in America. It's a taut, economical film that speeds along on its narrative and takes subject matter that is obscure and inflammatory and makes great entertainment out of it.

Based on real-life events surrounding the assassination of a leftist Greek political leader, the film follows the attack on the Doctor (Yves Montand) and the subsequent investigation by a dogged investigator (Jean-Louis Trintignant) as he step by step uncovers a police and government role and cover-up in the "accident." Costa-Gravas bring so many elements and characters together, from those directly involved, to journalists, regular people, and government bureaucrats, that it would be easy for the film to devolve in a confounding web of different accounts and stories. It's really to his credit that he's able to take in all the surrounding stories and characters and still keep the kinetic pace of the central storyline. Because of that pace, the film has much more in common with Hollywood films than what people would think of a foreign films. It's incredibly easy to get caught up in this film without having to do much analytical work. That sounds a little like a backhanded compliment but there's something to be said about making a well-structured film that can keep up for two hours plus. It offsets the political tone of the film a bit, which is strongly anti-totalitarian, and while on one side of a fence, never feels oppressive. Z basically makes the viewer have no other options but to sympathize with the leftists, just out of the notions of justice and basic decency. And for that, which seems a bit radical now, is what made Z a fairly big film for its time.

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