A central element in most conspiracy theories is that “The Government” is on to something sinister, keeping it secret for the public and going out of its way to cover up for itself. Most conspiracy theories are laughable but then there are those countries where these things are very much reality and sometimes so blatantly that, at least for an outsider, those in power seem act with impunity.
Apparently, Greece was such a place in the sixties and the movie “Z” is about some of the shenanigans of the “deep state” in Greece.
In 1963, the leader of a left leaning pacifist party in Greese, Grigoris Lambrakis, got murdered during a rally in Thessaloniki by an extreme right-wing group acting under the instruction of the army and the police. In the following procedure led by the investigator Christos Sartzetakis, it was revealed how far this conspiracy went into the high ranks of power where a conservative elite wanted to cling to power at all costs. Yet, although exposed, they managed to forgive themselves and hit back at the prosecutors for embarrassing them.
“Z” is in French and appears to be taking place in France, but that is a very thin disguise. In every other aspect it is referring to this case in Greece to the extent that the opening titles state that any resemblance to real characters and events is intentional.
Yves Montand is “The Deputy” (meaning Grigoris Lambrakis) who is visiting “a northern town” for a rally. His team is having difficulty finding a proper venue, clearly the proprietors have been “discouraged” by somebody, but finally they are assigned a lousy locale. The team has been warned that The Deputy may be targeted but the police is treating it indifferently. At the rally the police are present in force and so are a number civilian anti-communist protesters (despite the pacifists are not communists). Already arriving at the venue, The Deputy is his in the head without the police doing anything and when he leaves the venue they finish the job, exactly as the real hit.
When the Examining Magistrate (Jean-Louis Trintignant as the Christos Sartzetakis character) arrives, the case is presented as an accident where a three-wheeled mini-lorry swerved into The Deputy, causing him to fall and hurt his head. The second half of the movie is now the investigation where gradually the official story proposed by the police and army brass falls apart and their, sometimes clumsy, attempts at silencing witnesses are exposed. The Magistrate is not political, he is just doing his job a little too well, but he soon finds himself the target of the deep state who accuses him of being a communist. Yet he prevails. Sort of. As a news report shows at the end, the top brass may have been charged, but they generally went free while the witnesses and indeed all the leading members of the pacifist party either died in unfortunate accidents or disappeared.
“Z” presents itself as a political movie, but I think today we would call it a criminal thriller. What political position condones criminal behavior or blatant suppression of the population? Oh, I am sorry, my mistake, plenty of political systems believe this sort of behavior is defensible and convenient, even today. Then let me rephrase myself: “Z” makes the fighting of a corrupt political system a criminal investigation, treating the brass as what they really are, criminals. The movie does have sympathy for the left, but it is not a leftist movie any more than “All the President’s Men” was. It is simply indignant at what a corrupt regime managed to get away with.
Technically it is a well-made movie. It does not go too far in what could easily have become shrill accusations, but instead when things become grotesque resort to ridicule. In this way the generals and colonels become involuntarily comical in their insistence on protecting the realm.
The Book writes that the suspense is unbearable, but I would not go that far. It is interesting though, and manages well to keep my interest. Definitely a movie to recommend but one you should probably be careful watching in a number of countries even today.