1969; directed by Costa-Gavras; adapted by Jorge Semprún; 127 mins
“Any similarity to real persons or events is not coincidental. It is INTENTIONAL.”
One of the most baldly provocative opening statements to any movie, we hit the ground running in this not very fictionalised tale depicting the public assassination of a prominent leftist politician and the flagrant cover-up by police and military.
Transparently based around the 1963 murder of Greek politico Grigoris Lambrakis, many of those responsible for his death were still running the country at the time of the film’s release. Hence we have a movie that doesn’t mind throwing bricks through some choice windows! Very soon, the conspiracy, which reaches up and down the classes, is under investigation by a cool and pragmatic Magistrate. Like The Battle of Algiers or The Wire, Z throws us into a socio-political scrum of faces and job titles including bureaucrats, wives, journos, heavies, informants, witnesses and generals. This via a terrific ensemble of actors who brilliantly convey all the anger and frustration of such critical times.
What makes this film still feel relevant is the sheer excitement and anger of it. It has a case to solve and a message to get across and needs, needs, needs to tell it! Information is relayed while charging through the streets, snapping suspects or escaping anonymous assailants. Crucially, it also conveys the mechanics of silencing the populace. Whereas fear of “them” is so often an off-screen plot convenience in other films, Z also shows us how the oppressors oppress through threats, beatings and when backed into a corner – barefaced illegality.
A master of the political thriller, Gavras wants us to know that his hero was murdered in 1963 and the killers got away with it. However rather than bore us to death with an earnest historical dirge, he stays in the moment and in doing so, keeps that period alive within a stylishly shot chase movie. As with all the best films, what is revealed is that universal chase where the prize is the truth and our rivals are those who seek to beat us into a state of compliance and apathy.