Monday, February 13, 2012

He's alive, he's alive!

TCM is going to Greece tonight, although the first movie never explicity mentions being set in Greece. That film is Z, airing at 8:00 PM.

Z is based on events that happened in Greece in the early 1960s. A rightist government supported by the military was faced with leftist opposition, and one of the opposition leaders was killed in a traffic incident that was presumably premeditated vehicular homicide, but wsa just plausible enough for the authorities to claim it was an accident. Eventually, it led to the military taking control directly, and a military junta led Greece from 1967 to 1974 before democracy was restored. Z was released in 1969, at a time when the junta obviously wouldn't have cared for a story about this incident.

As for the movie itself, Z refers to the opposition leader, played by Yves Montand, who only goes by that letter. He's coming to the second-largest city in his Mediterranean country to speak to his supporters on the issue of nuclear disarmament. (As I mentioned before, the country is never actually mentioned; although it's obviously a reference to Greece the movie was filmed in Algeria.) Z and his supporters face problems. The first problem for everybody is that although they had booked a meeting hall for his speech, the owners of the hall have backed out. One can guess it's because the government doesn't like the idea of this speech going on and they've pressured the hall's owner into not allowing it. Indeed, it's clear that the military doesn't like the opposition, as we see a long lecture among the military and intelligence community comparing the opposition to a disease.

Anyhow, there's a bigger problem for Z, which is that there are rumors of an attempt on his life. Z feels he can't allow that to prevent him from standing up to the government, so he plans to go ahead with his speech, although he eventually gets hit by a speeding truck and left to die. Or, at least, that's the government's official version. The prosecutor given the task of coming to this conclusion (Jean-Louis Trintignant) starts his whitewash, but finds that perhaps what the government has been telling him might not be the truth. And he's not the only one. There's a photojournalist (Jacques Perrin) who has been covering the case because he's conluded the truth will make for a dynamite story. This becomes much more apparent when people who originally claimed to have known something about the case either clam up or go missing or get found dead.

Z is a movie that clearly has political points to make, but it's also the sort of movie that shows it's possible to have an obvious point of view and still make something that's entertaining and artistic. This is something that the people at Warner Bros. making many of the social commentary movies of the early 1930s (eg. I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang) knew, as did Michael Powell when he made 49th Parallel. It's also something you wish the filmmakers of today could know.

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