For some reason I have dim memories of trying to watch this in my early 20s and falling asleep. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Z is in fact a punchy political thriller with a deeply cynical ending. I would like to think this change is in part due to a certain political maturity (ha ha ha) on my part. Or perhaps I was just awake this time. Yves Montand plays an anti-war, anti-American/imperialist left-wing senator who is targeted for assassination by the militarist government. Though entirely in French, the film is based on the assassination in1963 of Grigorios Lambrakis, a professor of medicine at the University of Athens. The beginning of the film states “Any similarities between people living or dead is deliberate.” The gloves are off.
Montand’s character gets clubbed after a speaking engagement and later dies on the operating table. The protagonist role slowly shifts to the investigating judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who begins with a neutral assessment of events and then becomes convinced of a right-wing coverup in play. Fast-paced camera work (not to be confused with shaky, incomprehensible camera work) keeps the large cast of characters and their interactions clear as Trintignant’s judge builds a case.
The portrait of the explosive politics of the late ’60s resonates through to today, especially as we gear up towards the antagonism of the Republican Convention. Doesn’t that angry mob look just like the GOP bullyboys brought down to Florida in 2000 to stop the vote? Hmmm.