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Scene from "Z"
France-Algeria, 1969
Directed by Costa-Gavras (Constatine Gavras)
Written by Gavras & Jorge Semprun from the eponymous novel by Vassilis Vassilikos.
Photography: Raoul Coutard.
Music: Mikis Theodorakis.
Cast: Yves Montand, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jacques Perrin, Irene Papas, Charles Denner, Francois Perier, Marcel Bozzufi, Georges Geret et al.
127 minutes.

In 1963, Grigorios Lambrakis, MD, a popular leftist Member of the Greek Parliament, was assassinated in Thesssaloniki by goons employed by the extreme Right. Eventually the right-wing establishment fell and a precarious democracy was established, only to lead to a coup on 21 April 1967, by a military junta. The colonels' dictatorship lasted for 7 years.

A Greek writer, Vassilis Vassilikos, recounted the events around the Lambrakis murder in a thick novel, Z , in 1966. The title comes from a combination of the sound of the Greek letter Z , which is
pronounced approximately like "Long Live" , and the English sound of Z, which means in Greek, " he lives, he is alive" . Such shouts were uttered by the record crowd which attended Lambrakis' funeral in Athens. (Some people think that Z symbolizes the end, but the last letter of the Greek alphabet is Omega.)

When the movie came out, the Junta was already in place. The film was made with French money. It could not, of course, be shot in Greece, so Algeria was used as a substitute. Sharp-eyed viewers will detect Algerian faces and places, but overall the stand-in country works nicely.

The movie never mentions Greece by name, but its anonymous country is patently and transparently Greece. The uniforms are Greek, the
references are Greek, the names are Greek Among others, note the scene of Yves Montand, (The Deputy and victim-to-be) in a police office : he looks up and sees on the wall the portraits of King Paul and Queen Frederica, but with faces hidden by the reflection of lights on the glass frames.

Z was a sensation in its time and, even today, when shown to students who don't even know the first thing about the American Civil War and the two Word Wars --not to mention modern Greece! -- the film works very well as a high-pitched, easy- to -grasp, technically excellent thriller.

Z is a film of Greek inspiration, made by a Greek filmmaker, but as a =46rench production it straddles French and Greek cinema , and is considered a part of the French repertory.

Costa-Gavras is really Constantinos GavrÓs (note the accent). His father, a Greek from the USSR, has started to emigrate from Russia to the USA--but his stopover in Athens became a permanent residence.

The son, Constantinos (Costas for short) was born in Athens in 1933. The father, a small bureaucrat, was suspected of communism and
harassed, even after the war, at a time when leftists could be denied such niceties as passports, driver licenses and entrance to the
university. The son suffered much of that.

Costas went to Paris at age 20 to study literature at the Sorbonne. Later he went to the main French film school, the IDHEC. He worked with major directors, made a fine murder thriller, THE SLEEPING CAR MURDERS, which starred Yves Montand and his then-wife Simone Signoret.

C-G's next work was about choice and conscience set among the French Resistance in World War II. Fame came with Z.

In the meantime the name had been fancifully and mysteriously changed by the French (and the acquiescent director) to the easy, hyphenated, Costa-Gavras.

Edwin Jahiel

About Costa-Gavras

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