The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again. But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.
“They say a hungry bear won’t dance.”
Good topical movies take whatever’s in the zeitgeist at the moment, and comment on it in a way that makes you learn about it, or appreciate it, or be more disgusted by it, than you may have already been. They also do it in an entertaining way. Really great topical movies do all of that, and then remain illuminating and entertaining long after the issue has ceased to be topical, or even remembered. Before today, I knew nothing about the almost fascistly right wing government that took control of Greece in the early 60s. But that never stopped me from being totally rapt with Z.
This was a French/Algerian production, so while it’s French language, I’m not sure which country it was filmed in, or of it’s supposed to be set in any country in particular. Wherever it is, the right wing government is concerned about growing unrest from various left wing groups. One, lead by lefty Senator (Yves Montand) is getting ready for a big rally. And while the government pulls enough strings to have the Senator’s group refused several venues, the meeting takes place anyway, with hundreds of people cramming the small hall, and the streets outside.
But the streets are also crammed with right wingers, looking for a fight. As the Senator leaves, he’s hit by a car. He’s also hit in the head with a club by a guy in the back of the car as it passes. Later dying from the head wound, the government is quick to blame the incident on a drunk driving hit and run. But when a judge (Jean Louis Trintignant) and reporter (Jacques Perrin) start to dig deeper, an assassination plot leads higher and higher up the governmental chain.
I only knew about the connection to the real life Greek situation because I was reading the IMDB trivia page as I watched Z. And while it gave me a little more context for the movie, I think Z is good enough that it more than stands on its own two feet, without knowing what it’s referencing. It’s a gripping political thriller no matter how little you know going in, and the direction of Costa Gavras puts the viewer right in the middle of it.
Apparently its low budget lead to a lot of shooting on the fly, lack of professional stunt men and the use of non professional actors (thanks again, IMDB trivia page). And all of that gives Z a kind of messiness that ads to the chaos of its story. This isn’t a meticulously planned, high tech, back ops operation or James Bond like assassination. This is desperate people, making a desperate decision, and the mistakes caused by their desperation make everything seem so real and, I assume, accurate to the real life story that inspired it.