The 50th anniversary of Z, by Costa-Gavras, who receives the Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker award at Venice

Posted on August 22, 2019


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Z, directed by Costa-Gavras, is a French procedural-thriller based on Greek events – but let’s first look at the American connection. When the film was released in 1969, President Nixon’s resignation was still a few years away – but what Federal Times Editor Jill Aitoro wrote, after the Watergate scandal broke, was already beginning to be felt. She said that “a certain naiveté about politics was lost among Americans, a newfound appreciation of investigative journalism emerged, and government realized that press might not be so easily contained.” Vietnam. Race wars. The Black Panthers. The seeds of mistrust were beginning to be sown in the late-sixties, and it isn’t surprising that Z – about the assassination of a peacenik politician and the ensuing investigation into the cover-ups – became the twelfth-highest grossing film of the year. (It went on to win the Best Foreign Film Academy Award.)

Another American connection: the way the assassination is staged brings to mind the 8mm film of the John F Kennedy assassination shot by Abraham Zapruder. (You might have seen it in Oliver Stone’s JFK.) But Costa-Gavras, who will unveil a new film (Adults in the Room) at Venice and receive the Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker award, denied that the Zapruder film was an influence, because “in Europe, no one has really seen the Zapruder films”. In an interview he gave Cinéaste magazine (the Winter 1969/70 issue), he said, “I was more interested in showing how an important event is perceived. First we see [the assassination] as it actually took place, then as the general retells it, and finally, as a lawyer friend of Z remembers it.” The important event he speaks of is the assassination, in 1963, of democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis. But this is what makes the film universal. The Europeans may have known that it was really about one of their politicians, but the Americans may have felt the Kennedy connect. The specifics don’t matter.

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