Thoughts On: Z - The Historical-Political Film


Z - The Historical-Political Film

Quick Thoughts: Z (1969)

A French-Algerian film, the Algerian film of the World Cinema Series, depicting the meandering case surrounding the assassination of a Greek politician.

Z is a phenomenal film that combines humour and drama dexterously, showcasing masterful cinematic language through impeccable camera work and great editing. This all comes together to produce a fascinating epic investigative story about the military dictatorship that controlled Greece from 1967-74, one that pries deep into the phenomena of corruption and democracy. And in this respect, Z is a tragedy of sorts, one that depicts the prevalent futility of searching for justice. The end statement made by this narrative is then that the good guys rarely win the war, even if the battles are unanimously won. What then makes Z such a compelling narrative is not its negative and down-beat conclusion, rather the tone that is juxtaposed with it. As mentioned, this is a somewhat jovial film containing dark/satirical humour, with accompanying aesthetics and a soundtrack that reinforce a sense of levity. The formal commentary found through this then suggests that, whilst the good guys may never really win, that's fine because there's always a fight to be had and that life goes on. And that's the element of Z that was most compelling to me. Whilst we sympathise with the pacifists, we are not bombarded with their doctrines, which allows this narrative to have a political edge without being overt propaganda. Moreover, this story is never nihilistic or anarchistic and doesn't ask much of the viewer; it's a fascinating story told well and left to the viewer to decipher. It does have to be said that this may not ring true with all people are some sequences do bridge towards melodrama, and the satire is sometimes pretty blatant. Nonetheless, Z is a film I can't help but recommend to all.

Before jumping toward conclusion, I have to say that Z has had me re-consider a few things. The first is the kind of movie that is deemed important in its day, praised and given Oscars, but quickly forgotten; films like Spotlight. Whilst I still don't think Spotlight is a particularly great film, it does preserve in time a period and event that can be considered historically significant. This is what Z manages to do, and this is exactly what Roger Ebert picked up upon when saying:

It is no more about Greece than "The Battle of Algiers" was about Algeria. It is a film of our time.

The Battle of Algiers is a film I of course considered injecting into the World Cinema Series today, but shied away from as I've never enjoyed it too much or found it that fascinating. This is because it falls into a vein of films that are supposed to be historically significant, must sees, such and so on. As I've said on the blog before, I don't much care for these - though, I could be wrong about The Battle of Algiers and should probably give it another watch. However, Z has made me soften my position on this, seeing that films with historical significance actually age pretty well, and so are best looked back upon. So, even though Spotlight is set over 15 years ago, it will probably be more interesting to people (like me) in the following years or decades. But, whilst this is what Z made quite clear to me, Spotlight very clearly pales in comparison.

Either way, the second thing that this film had me re-consider was political films in general. Again, I'm not a fan of them, but even as I've just begun the World Cinema Series, I'm finding more and more examples of films with strong political undertones that aren't unbearable and boring - which I hope to find more of as the series continues. So, again, if you, like me, aren't too interested in political films that are supposed to be important movies of certain times, maybe give Z a shot and see what you think.

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UPDATE: For a brief look at The Battle of Algiers, click here.

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