Z (Algeria/France, 1969)

Directed by: Costa-Gavras. For the long period between when I thought about starting a blog and actually started it, there was a lot of great non-Hollywood films that came across my desk, that made an impression on me, and that influenced me to start documenting all of these great films I find. One of them was Missing by Costa-Gavras, a film about the true story of an American journalist who disappears after asking too many questions about the American involvement in the Chilean coup in 1973 that saw the overthrow of the democratically elected president and the installation of a military dictatorship, and the deadly fallout wherein thousands of people were killed or “disappeared”, something that haunts the country to this day. It was a great film, very intelligent, very grown-up—in short, very European, and generally leftist, and I really liked it. I always meant to see more from Costa-Gavras, a Greek expatriate based in France, but never got around to it until recently, when I saw a flood of really cool-looking Criterion packages of his films, and decided to pick this one first. This was, I believe, the one that put him on the map, a sort of tragic love letter to his home country, in the form of what was at the time an excoriating indictment of the ruling government of the day—a military dictatorship—and its perceived culpability in condoning and/or advocating for the assassination of prominent left-wing politician Grigoris Lambrakis by right-wing extremists. I’m always excited to see this kind of explicit, yet cool and intelligent, political commentary in cinema, about current events, because in Hollywood, this kind of thing is almost forbidden. I’ve mentioned before the predictable pattern of Hollywood Liberal do-gooders making films about progressive causes, but almost always safely in the bounds of events that happened 20+ years ago. (The rare exception is Oliver Stone, but I haven’t seen Snowden yet so I can’t comment too much on it.) Without being very scientific, I’ll just say that it seems to be a pretty “European” thing to take a position on something and make a film about it as it’s happening, before the dust has really settled, and I appreciate that. Perhaps I like these so much, though, because they’re just good films anyway. God knows I love Ken Loach, but he can be pretty on-the-nose sometimes, and with Costa-Gavras so far, I don’t get a lot of that petulant adolescent outrage at injustice—his outrage reads to me as a very robust, intelligent outrage. And with the passing of time, it’s easy to forget that this was a satirical comedy at the time, in the vein of Doctor Strangelove maybe, which is another interesting element, the way that the corrupt authority figures are presented as cartoonish buffoons, but the violence they inflict is still very real and horrifying. In general, it’s a movie with a lot of stuff going on, which I like, and I’ll have to give it a re-watch down the road.

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