Thursday, February 12, 2009


Appropriate that I should look at Z immediately after There Will Be Blood, since Z does well what the former botches so badly. It opens with driving music, above images of medals for the police and military, followed by footage of many important characters and a speech about "intellectual mildew", referring to left-protests, immediately followed by the disclaimer that "Any resemblance to actual events, to persons living or dead, is not the result of chance. It is DELIBERATE." In one minute and forty seconds, the movie tells you everything you need to know. This is going to be a fast-paced, politically-charged thriller, involving the police suppressing left-wing ideas it disagrees with, based in part on reality. It also declares, in big bold letters, that it and everyone involved are badasses.

Here's the story, a senator for a Greek opposition party is in town to hold a rally for peace and reduced military presence, and the police - a part of the military - are subtly trying to ensure he doesn't get to say his speech. He finds a way to say it anyway, and is assaulted in a manner that might appear to be an accident, though the viewer knows exactly what happens. The police try to cover it up, but the autopsy of the leader proves them wrong, and the person behind the investigation gets suspicious. We follow the lead investigator down the rabbit hole, discovering the depth of the police corruption. And, right at the end, we - and by extension all of Greece - are kicked squarely in the balls.

This movie is a work of pure genius. The rapid dialog and pacing are like watching a car chase with words. The film moves too fast for heavy exposition, we don't even get to learn the names of many of the main characters, just generally how they fit into the whole puzzle. Important pieces of back story are presented as blink-and-you-miss-it insert shots, entire personalities are established and easily understood merely by the characters' actions. It's masterpiece of economy, achieving much more in a succession of quick shots than some other films can manage in their entire running time.

Subtle clues are placed throughout that indicate the full depth of the police involvement, but since it moves so quickly and doesn't linger on any of the police characters for any length of time, it's easy to miss them completely and be shocked when they appear later. Everything is presented to the viewer exactly as it happens, but if you don't know what you're looking for you're not going to notice it. Other movies might linger on "this might be important later!" moments, but by hiding everything in plain view, this movie keeps the mystery alive.

This is also the kind of movie that is always dangerously close to being relevant, a story about organizations suppressing those who might threaten their power. I'm not going to bring current politics into the picture, since it was made 40 years ago and the relevance is tied to events that actually happened in Greece at around that time. Tying it in to a current problem might be trendy and cool, but it also does a disservice to people who lived through the events which were lightly fictionalized here. It's a case of learning from history, a document of what can happen when power is threatened and people want to save it.

Z is a lesson in how to make a political movie, and how to make a thriller. It's not burdened with heavy character portraits, excessive back story, and clunky subplots. It's just the events and the aftermath, shown in a way that doesn't allow you to take a breath or even blink. Z is the ultimate in economical storytelling, hell the title is only one letter. You can't get much more economical than that. You also can't get much better, if I were forced to make a list, this would easily hit my top five favorite films ever.

(I'm dedicated to random screencaps now! See? A crappy screen, but random! Though if it shows a massive spoiler and/or something not safe for work I'll try again. Also, I have pictures for sale if anyone's interested. Check the link marked "Buy my pictures!" on the side there, or click on this letter: Z)

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