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David Charry

Thoughts on Z
Theres no quicker way to grab the attention of the audience than to
start out with a cheeky statement. As Z begins, a title card appears on
screen, Any similarity to real persons and events is not coincidental. It is
intentional. The effect is similar to the opening card in (500) DAYS OF
SUMMER, which states, The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance
to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Especially you Jenny
Beckman. Bitch. The tone is set very quickly: the filmmakers were not
concerned with offending anyone. There is an aggressive, almost angry
nature to the filmmaking. The pace never slows down.
I watched Z knowing nothing about the film, except it was in French
and judging from the poster, some people get angry. This gave me no
context to the film, and what it had meant when it came out. When Z was
released in 1969, Roger Ebert said,
When the Army junta staged its coup in 1967, the right-wing generals
and the police chief were cleared of all charges and 'rehabilitated.'
Those responsible for unmasking the assassination now became
political criminals. These would seem to be completely political events,
but the young director Costa-Gavras has told them in a style that is
almost unbearably exciting. Z is at the same time a political cry of rage
and a brilliant suspense thriller. It even ends in a chase: Not through
the streets but through a maze of facts, alibis and official corruption."
Knowledge of the world politics at the time (not just Greek politics) adds to
the energy that already exists in the film and to the frustration.
Of course, maybe this anger is still evident in the current state of the
US. Incidents of police aggression are occurring on a daily basis, and the
public seems to merely shrug it off. The defense of the police and
government corruption is occurring in US news daily. The rage being felt in
Chicago over the murder of Laquan McDonald by Officer Jason Van Dyke is
similar to the rage in Z. Yes, Van Dyke has been charged with murder, but
over a year after the event occurred when blatantly clear evidence existed of
the incident. The rage being felt at the apparent corruption in Chicago, and
other local governments in the US is similar to the energy that seems to ooze
out of Z.
Z reaches far and wide, despite how specific it is in the situation. When
it was released internationally, Z received excellent reviews and standing
ovations as well as several awards. It was nominated for Best Writing, Best
Director, and Best Picture and won Best Foreign Film and Best Editing. It is
one of the few films to be nominated in both the Best Picture and Best
Foreign Film categories. Additionally, it won awards at the Cannes Film
Festival and the Golden Globes as well as myriad of other film festivals.
Raoul Coutard was cinematographer for Z. He is well known for his
work in French New Wave films, particularly those directed by Franois
Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Coutard definitely contributed strongly to the
tone of Z, particularly through the use of naturalistic lighting, which was only

starting to become popular in the 1960s due to the excitement brought by

the low-budget films of the French New Wave. Another aspect of the French
New Wave that bled over to Z was the handheld documentary feel. As clich
as it has become over the past 50 years, the concise use of the handheld
camera works very well in Z. In fact, due to the visual style of the film, I had
previously thought Z was shot at least a decade later in the late 70s. I was
surprised to find out that it was released in 1969.
One interesting anecdote is that Jacques Perrin, who also produced the
movie (at 27-years-old and received the Academy Award for Best Foreign
Film), plays the photographer in the film. Many years later, Jacques Perrin
plays the older Salvatore in CINEMA PARADISO and the older Pierre Morhange
in LES CHORISTES (as well as many films before those, but these are the two
that Im familiar with.)

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