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Working through some classics… Costa-Gavras’ “Z” I have actually seen before. About 30 years ago, to be “precise”, some night on tv. Since then, I keep thinking about it occasionally, and I remember having liked it a lot. Watching it again now, I realise that I remembered a concept rather than an actual film, a concept of intrigue and injustice, but with very few details about the actual film. The one scene I did remember was actually not in the film, it was (as I figured out after some research) from “I Comme Icare”, the Yves Montand film of 1979 which ends with a shot – and that shot I associated with “Z”. Strange how memory works. But then again, if memory does not fail me again, those two films do have quite a bit in common… Good that I started working my way through some of the films in Roger Ebert’s “Awake in the Dark” collection. I was already rewarded with the fabulous “Battle of Algier”, and now with the weird (and very good) “Z”. 

Which is a comedy. That’s what surprised me the most: this film has a very light tone most of the time, it has goofy, clumsy characters, it has intentional slapstick moments (highly decorated military officers rattling a locked door, all 5 or 6 of them, after their interrogation), a key witness is a dork who only testifies because he is annoyed that his neighbour got his picture in the paper and he didn’t… But at the heart of the film’s second half is the incredibly calm, non-acting Jean-Louis Trintignant, who is just doing his job trying to collect information about a politician’s death, and is very patient about dealing with all the lunatics around him. Without agenda, without pathos, with an (again) laugh-out-loud ignorance towards drama and politics. I need to see this film in a cinema with an audience – I bet that when he says “nom, prenom, occupation” for the fourth time, the audience is rolling on the floor laughing. He does not laugh, he is the nightmare of the system in that he has no agenda, and wreaks havok among the ranks (key dialogue bit: “What are you hinting at?” – “Nothing Sir, I am only stating facts.”).

There’s many more great things about the film, but what is truly memorable is the role of the assassinated politician’s wife, played by Irene Papas. She does not really have a lot to do, but in these few scenes she gives everything from just being very beautiful, through being outraged, to being wise and sad and without illusion at the end.

The film’s final scenes, the epilogue, appear odd and artificial. They can, I suppose, only be appreciated in the light of what actually happened during and after the Greek events on which the script is based. As a piece of fiction the epilogue appears outrageously out of touch with reality. However… sometimes life tells more grueling stories than fiction can swallow.

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