Z TRIES to succeed in more ways than it can. As a drama. it is a work of art-fast-paced and tightly constructed to keep up the suspense and involvement of the audience. As a political film, it falls short of succeeding both because it is a good drama with a happy ending and because it is far more clear about what it is against than what it is for.
The film is based on a true story. Center Union deputy and left-wing leader Gregorios Lambrakis arrived in Salonika in 1963 to give a speech. The city officials denied him a large hall for his speech. Instead, he broadcast it into a large square in which both his followers and large groups of right-wing antagonists gathered. Fights broke out between them. As Lambrakis left the hall, he was clubbed on the head by someone on the back of a passing truck, and later died. In the investigation that followed, a scrupulously honest judge (a freak phenomenon in Greece), discovered that city officials had hired Lambrakis' murderer. A whole network of conspiratorial right-wing generals and government officials was rounded up and indicted for murder.
The film condenses these historical events into a tight drama. The key to its popularity is that it relentlessly evokes the collective political consciousness of the audience. Everybody cheers when the fascists get screwed. But the political situation in Greece today is less happy than the ending of the film. The fascists are in charge again and the leftists have been ruthlessly persecuted and tortured. A narrative at the end of the film tries to redress this ambiguity by describing the fate of the good guys during the next few years as a result of fascist persecution. It shows a list of all the things which are banned in Greece today. But this tacked-on ending is artistically unacceptable and contradicts the tone of the film's dramatic conclusion.
THE POLITICAL point of view of the film is confused. Its basically anti-fascist outlook attracts liberals and radicals. But is the hero of the film Lambrakis, whose real beliefs are vaguely pro-peace and anti-status quo? Is the hero the brave judge, who with painstaking efficiency works within the system to bring down the regime? Or is it that aide of Lambrakis who calls for the people to take to the streets and bring a violent end to a corrupt regime? All these are possible according to the audience. That Z is an exciting drama and that its point of view is confusing takes away from the political effect that the director apparently desired.
In spite of its ambiguities, everyone should see Z because it is brilliant cinema and has superb acting and beautiful music. Probably more talent has gone into the making of this film than any other of the past year. The color photography by Raoul Coutard (who directed the photography for almost all of Godard's films as well as Jules and Jim by Truffaut) is exceptional. The camera is not a passive observer of the scene but plays an active role. The shots of the fights in the demonstrations are superb because the camera moves around and sweeps you into the maelstrom and confusion of the demonstration as if you were there. The confusion in the aftermath of the murder creates the suspense which is relieved in the later investigation. The camera also shrewdly caricatures the individuals in the film. The generals and officials with their squinted eyes and tinted glasses bear an unmistakable resemblance to the current leaders in Greece-Papadopoulos and Pattakos-and vindicate the declaration by the Greek-born director Costa-Gavras at the outset of the film that "any resemblance of the characters in this film to actual person or persons is not coincidental-it is intentional."
As with Godard, Coutard often shoots his scenes with plain white backgrounds and focuses on the individuals and the tensions between them.
JORGE SEMPRUN wrote the screenplay, based upon the novel. Z by the Greek-born French writer Vasily Vasilikos, Semprun wrote the screenplay for Alain Resnais La Guerre est Finie, which also stars Yves Montand, who plays Lambrakis in Z. In both films. Semprun makes use of flashback technique. In Z, it shows Lambrakis the man. Throughout the film, Semprun maintains both the man and the mythical martyr through Irene Pappas, who plays his wife and widow. One of Lambrakis aides comes to her after the officials responsible for his death have been indicted and says: "It's as if he ware alive." But she is a moving reminder that he is a dead human being. Lambrakis, the myth, is represented by the letter Z, which is now banned in Greece. ("Zei" in Greek means "He lives").
The musical score was composed, appropriately enough, by Mikis Theodorakis, a great composer ( Zorba the Greek ) and left-wing youth leader. When the colonels took over in April, 1967. Theodorakis knew what was best for him and took refuge in the Bulgarian embassy in Athens. The police caught up with him and he has been in prison for more than two years. He is now sick and under police surveillance in a hospital. The score for Z is adapted from various of his work which were smuggled out of Greece, where they are banned along with the music of Tchaikovsky.
Yves Montand is perfect as Z's charismatic hero. Coutard's camera heightens his magnetism. Irene Pappas is, of course, magnificent as Lambrakis' widow. Her facial expressions speak for her suffering. Jean-Louis Tritignant ( A Man and a Woman, Ma Nuit Chez Maud ) plays the judge whose investigation, along with that of a crusading young journalist, exposes the fascists.
ALTHOUGH Z is a very elating and exciting film, it could also be very disturbing. Its arrival in the U. S. came at a time when the President sent a new ambassador to Greece and when the Senate voted not to reduce military aid. That tragic country is only important to this country's government as a NATO ally and a choice opportunity for Coca-Cola and Litton Industries. The heroes of Z have either been bumped off or impounded in remote islands and communities around Greece. Hopefully, Z will impress its viewers not only as exciting drama and good cinema, but will also remind them of current realities in Greece.