A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Z (Costa-Gavras, 1969)

Watching Costa-Gavras's great political thriller on a night when Donald Trump was raking in votes in the Republican primaries was unsettling. But then it was an unsettling film to watch in 1969, the year after Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated, the police clashed with demonstrators at the Democratic convention in Chicago, and Richard Nixon was elected president. What made it unsettling this time was the way the film shows the destructive collaboration of ideologues, buffoons, and thugs. It's a more grimly funny movie than I remembered, particularly in the portrayal of the general in charge of the police, who as played by Pierre Dux is both ideologue and buffoon. There is buffoonery also among the thugs, and Costa-Gavras has fun mocking the conspirators who, once they angrily leave the room in which they've been indicted, each try to open a locked door. But we mock them in vain. For while the efforts of the prosecutor played beautifully by Jean-Louis Trintignant are heroic and Costa-Gavras and screenwriter Jorge Semprún make us expect justice to prevail, it doesn't. The story is that of the assassination of Greek opposition politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963 and the subsequent investigation that brought a glimmer of hope to the country only to be squelched by the military coup of 1967. However, the film is set in no specific country -- it was filmed in Algeria -- and only an opening "disclaimer" that parodies the usual assertion about any resemblance to persons living or dead dares to say that the resemblances in the film are entirely intentional. Costa-Gavras and Semprún were political exiles from, respectively, Greece and Spain. The composer Mikis Theodorakis had been arrested and his music was banned in Greece; he gave Costa-Gavras permission to use existing compositions for the film score. But the decision to set the film in no particular place only strengthened its ability to reach out and make its story meaningful beyond a specific place and time. Although Yves Montand and Irene Papas get top billing as the assassinated politician and his wife, Montand's role is comparatively small and Papas's is virtually a cameo. The movie is mostly carried by Trintignant and by Jacques Perrin, one of its producers who also plays a very aggressive investigative journalist, and a capable supporting cast. It won Oscars as the best foreign-language film and for Françoise Bonnot's film editing. It was also the first film to be nominated in the best picture category, and picked up nominations for best director and best adapted screenplay, but lost in those categories to Midnight Cowboy and its director, John Schlesinger, and screenwriter, Waldo Salt.

No comments: