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Z (1969 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byCosta-Gavras
Screenplay by
Based onZ
(1967 novel)
by Vassilis Vassilikos
Produced by
CinematographyRaoul Coutard
Edited byFrançoise Bonnot
Music byMikis Theodorakis
  • Office National pour le Commerce et l'Industrie Cinématographique
  • Reggane Films
  • Valoria Films
Distributed byVarloria Films (France)
Release date
  • 26 February 1969 (1969-02-26) (France)
Running time
127 minutes[1]
  • French
  • Russian
  • English
Box office$17.3 million (United States)[4]

Z is a 1969 political thriller film directed by Costa-Gavras, from a screenplay he co-wrote with Jorge Semprún, adapted from the 1967 novel of the same name by Vassilis Vassilikos. The film presents a thinly fictionalized account of the events surrounding the assassination of the democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. With its dark view of Greek politics and its downbeat ending, the film captures the director's outrage about the junta that then ruled Greece. The title refers to a popular Greek protest slogan (Greek: Ζει, IPA: [ˈzi]) meaning "he lives," in reference to Lambrakis.

A French and Algerian co-production,[2] the film stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as the investigating magistrate, an analogue of Christos Sartzetakis, who would become the Greek president from 1985 to 1990. International stars Yves Montand and Irene Papas also appear, but despite their star billing, they have very little screen time. Jacques Perrin, who also produced the film, plays a key role as a photojournalist. Other actors in the film include Pierre Dux, Charles Denner, François Périer, Georges Géret and Bernard Fresson. The musical score was composed by Mikis Theodorakis.

Z was the first film and one of only a handful to be nominated by the Academy Awards for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film. It won the latter as well as the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film. At the 27th Golden Globe Awards, its producers refused the award to protest the film's exclusion from the Best Motion Picture – Drama category.[5]


The film centers on the right-wing, military-dominated government of an unnamed Mediterranean state (based on Greece). The story begins with the closing moments of a rather dull government lecture on agricultural policy until the leader of the security police takes over the podium for an impassioned speech describing the government's program to combat leftism by using the metaphors "a mildew of the mind", an infiltration of "isms" and "sunspots".

The scene shifts to preparations for a political rally of the opposition faction in which the left-leaning, pacifist deputy is to give a speech advocating nuclear disarmament. There have been attempts by the government to prevent the speech from being delivered. The venue has been changed to a much smaller hall, logistical problems have appeared out of nowhere and the people handing out leaflets about the change of venue are attacked by thugs under the command of the police. On his way to the venue, the deputy is hit on the head by one of the right-wing anticommunist protestors, some of whom are sponsored by the government, but carries on with his sharp speech. As the deputy crosses the street from the hall after giving his speech, a delivery truck speeds past him, and a man on the open truck bed strikes him down with a club. The injury eventually proves fatal, and the police manipulate witnesses to force the conclusion that the deputy was simply run over by a drunk driver.

However, the police do not control the hospital, where the autopsy disproves their interpretation. The examining magistrate, with the assistance of a photojournalist, now uncovers sufficient evidence to indict not only the two right-wing militants who committed the murder but also four high-ranking military police officers. The action of the film concludes with one of the deputy's associates rushing to see his widow to give her the surprising news of the officers' indictments. The widow looks distressed and appears not to believe things will change for the better.

An epilogue provides a synopsis of the subsequent turns of events. Instead of justice being served, the prosecutor is mysteriously removed from the case, several key witnesses die under suspicious circumstances, the assassins receive relatively short sentences, the officers receive only administrative reprimands, the deputy's close associates die or are deported and the photojournalist is sent to prison for disclosing official documents. The heads of the government resign after public disapproval, but before elections are carried out, a coup d'état occurs, and the military seize power. They ban modern art, popular music, avant-garde novelists, modern mathematics, classic and modern philosophers and the use of the term "Ζ" (Greek: zíta, or Greek: zi, which is used by protesters against the former government), which refers to the deputy and means "He lives."




The 1963 murder of Greek politician and physician Grigoris Lambrakis and subsequent military junta served as the basis for the story.[6] Among Costa-Gavras' references to the actual events was the frequency with which the military compared ideologies to diseases, seen when the General compares -isms to mildew.[7] The Magistrate was based on real-life Greek jurist Christos Sartzetakis.[8] Costa-Gavras opted to show the Deputy had adulteries and conflicts with his wife to demonstrate he was simply a man.[7]

Costa-Gavras was also motivated by the suspicious disappearance of Mehdi Ben Barka in 1965. Some American viewers infer parallels between the film and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, particularly given how some stylistic elements seem to mimic the Zapruder film. That said, Costa-Gavras has stated that the Zapruder film had not been widely circulated in Europe at the time and that Kennedy's assassination did not influence the production.[9]


Ballet scenes were shot at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris

Principal photography took place in Algiers at actor Jacques Perrin's suggestion, which the filmmakers approved for its Mediterranean environment and because the Ministry of Culture was accommodating.[7] In Algiers, the Hotel St. Georges and the central square were filming locations, while Paris' Théâtre des Champs-Élysées was used for the ballet scenes.[7] Marcel Bozzuffi performed his own stunts wrestling on the "Kamikaze" vehicle due to the production's lack of budget for professional stunt performers.[7]

Costa-Gavras chose Z as the title of the film based on its common occurrence in Greek graffiti for "He lives" (or even "Lambrakis you live; it’s you who guides us!" [Λαμπράκη ζεις, εσύ μας οδηγείς!; Lambráki zis, esý mas odigís!]); Costa-Gavras acknowledged a one-letter film title was unconventional and said Yves Montand expressed concern it would be confused with Zorro, but Costa-Gavras said the novelty of the idea won him over.[7]


The soundtrack by Mikis Theodorakis was a hit record. The Greek junta had placed the composer under house arrest but he was able to give his approval to Costa-Gavras for the use of existing musical pieces.

The film features, but does not credit, Pierre Henry's contemporary hit song "Psyché Rock". The soundtrack as released on LP and CD replaces Henry's song with a similar track written by Theodorakis titled "Café Rock."

  1. Main Title (Antonis) from the "Mauthausen Trilogy" of Mikis Theodorakis
  2. The Smiling Youth
  3. The Chase-The Smiling Youth
  4. Murmur of the Heart
  5. Cafe Rock
  6. Arrival of Helen-The Smiling Youth
  7. Batucada
  8. The Smiling Youth (Bouzouki Version)
  9. The Smiling Youth
  10. Who's Not Talking About Easter
  11. Finale-The Smiling Youth
  12. Murmur of the Heart
  13. In This Town

"The Happy Youth" and "Who's Not Talking About Easter" were among the poems adapted from Brendan Behan's play The Hostage by Theodorakis in 1962. By referring to the Irish struggle against British rule rather than Greek realities, the poems offered a way to circumvent censorship in Greece and condemn Greece's post-war right-wing establishment. "The Smiling Youth" (το γελαστό παιδί) was also one of the nicknames of Lambrakis.


Z was picked up for U.S. distribution by the specialty company/New York City theatre chain Cinema 5.[10]


Prints of the film were acquired by the Black Panther Party and shown at underground screenings.[9] An advance copy of the film was shown at the United Front Against Fascism conference in 1969.[11]

It first aired on American television on The ABC Monday Night Movie in March 1974.

Critical response[edit]

At the time of release, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, who named Z the best film of 1969, liked the screenplay and its message, and wrote, "[Z] is a film of our time. It is about how even moral victories are corrupted. It will make you weep and will make you angry. It will tear your guts out...When the Army junta staged its coup in 1967, the right-wing generals and the police chief were cleared of all charges and 'rehabilitated.' Those responsible for unmasking the assassination now became political criminals. These would seem to be completely political events, but the young director Costa-Gavras has told them in a style that is almost unbearably exciting. Z is at the same time a political cry of rage and a brilliant suspense thriller. It even ends in a chase: Not through the streets but through a maze of facts, alibis and official corruption."[12]

In 2006, James Berardinelli wrote, "Z was the third feature film from Greek-born Costa-Gavras, but it is the movie that captured him to the world's attention, winning a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It introduced the director's signature approach of combining overt political messages with edge-of-the-seat tension."[13] Jonathan Richards wrote in 2009, "It's hard to overstate the impact that this Oscar-winning procedural thriller had in 1969, on a world roiling in political activism, repression, and discord. In the U.S., the Vietnam War was on the front burner, the populace was passionately engaged, and the police riots outside the '68 Chicago Democratic Convention and the murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton were raw wounds. With this stylish, intense indictment of the assassination of a leftist political leader by a right wing government cabal in his native Greece, director Costa-Gavras struck a nerve that resonated here and around the globe."[14]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 94% "fresh" score based on 47 reviews, with an average rating of 8.2/10. The site's consensus states: "Powerfully effective, this anti-fascist political thriller stands out as both high-conscience melodrama and high-tempo action movie."[15]

The film was voted in Time's list of The 15 Best Political Films of All Time.[16]

The film was selected to be screened in the Cannes Classics section of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.[17]

Box office[edit]

The film had a total of 3,952,913 admissions in France and was the 4th highest-grossing film of the year.[18] It was also very popular in the United States grossing $17.3 million,[4] being one of the top five highest-grossing non-English language films there.[19]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Z was the second foreign-language film in Academy history to receive a nomination for Best Picture, after Grand Illusion.[20]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards 7 April 1970 Best Picture Ahmed Rachedi and Jacques Perrin Nominated [21]
Best Director Costa-Gavras Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Jorge Semprún and Costa-Gavras Nominated
Best Foreign Language Film Algeria Won
Best Film Editing Françoise Bonnot Won
BAFTA Awards 1970 Best Film Costa-Gavras Nominated [22]
Best Screenplay Costa-Gavras, Jorge Semprun Nominated
Best Editing Françoise Bonnot Nominated
Best Film Music Mikis Theodorakis Won
United Nations Award Costa-Gavras Nominated
Cannes Film Festival 8 – 23 May 1969 Jury Prize Won [23]
Palme d'Or Nominated
Best Actor Jean-Louis Trintignant Won
Directors Guild of America Award 1970 Best Director Costa-Gavras Nominated [24]
Golden Globes 2 February 1970 Best Foreign Language Film Won [25]
National Society of Film Critics January 1970 Best Film Won [26]
New York Film Critics Circle 25 January 1970 Best Film Won [27]
Best Director Won


Filmmakers Paul Greengrass and Aki Kaurismäki listed the film in their top 10 films of all time for the 2012 Sight and Sound poll.[28]

The French filmmaker Mathieu Kassovitz listed the film as influential to his work.[29]

The French filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb listed Z as an influence on his film Outside the Law.[30]

It is regarded as one of American filmmaker Oliver Stone's favorite films that inspired his filmmaking.[31][32][33] John Milius also cited the film as an influence.[34]

The American filmmaker Steven Soderbergh listed Z as an inspiration on his film Traffic and stated that he: "wanted to make it like [Costa-Gavras]'s Z".[35][36][37][38]

The American filmmaker William Friedkin listed Z as one of his favorite films and mentioned the film's influence on him when directing his film The French Connection: "After I saw Z, I realized how I could shoot the French Connection. Because he [Costa-Gavras] shot 'Z' like a documentary. It was a fiction film but it was made like it was actually happening. Like the camera didn't know what was gonna happen next. And that is an induced technique. It looks like he happened upon the scene and captured what was going on as you do in a documentary. My first films were documentaries too. So I understood what he was doing but I never thought you could do that in a feature at that time until I saw Z."[39] As an homage, Friedkin cast actor Marcel Bozzuffi in a similar role.[40]

The American actor and filmmaker Ben Affleck listed the film as an influence for his film Argo.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Z (A)". British Board of Film Classification. 25 September 1969. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  2. ^ a b c "Z (1968)". BFI. Archived from the original on 11 August 2016. Retrieved 5 March 2023.
  3. ^ "Z". Lumiere. Retrieved 5 March 2023.
  4. ^ a b "Top Grossing Independent Films". Variety. 21 February 1994. p. A52.
  5. ^ "Trivia". Golden Globes website. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  6. ^ Shaw, Tony (2014). Cinematic Terror: A Global History of Terrorism on Film. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 105. ISBN 978-1441158093.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Costa-Gavras (2002). Z Commentary Track (DVD). Wellspring Media.
  8. ^ Oliver Boyd Barrett; David Herrera; James A. Baumann (2011). Hollywood and the CIA: Cinema, Defense and Subversion. Taylor & Francis. p. 43. ISBN 978-1136806766.
  9. ^ a b "Costa-Gavras Talks About Z". Cinéasta. 3 (3): 12–16. 1969. JSTOR 43551774.
  10. ^ Wyatt, Justin (2017). "Donald Rugoff, Cinema V, and Commercial Strategies of 1960s–1970s Art Cinema". Media Industries. 4 (1). Michigan Publishing (University of Michigan Library). doi:10.3998/mij.15031809.0004.104. ISSN 2373-9037. Retrieved 10 May 2023.
  11. ^ Sharpe, Kenan Bezhat (8 November 2018). "Directing the Revolution". Jacobin. Jacobin Magazine. Retrieved 22 June 2019.
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (30 December 1969). "Z". The Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  13. ^ Berardinelli, James (2006). "Z". reelviews.com.
  14. ^ Richards, Jonathan (2009). "In the Dark".
  15. ^ "Z (1969)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. 8 December 1969. Retrieved 7 January 2021.
  16. ^ Ben Cosgrove (22 August 2012). "The 15 Best Political Films of All Time: The Votes Are In". TIME. TIME USA, LLC. Retrieved 29 June 2021.
  17. ^ "Cannes Classics 2015". Cannes Film Festival. 29 April 2015. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  18. ^ "Z (1969)- JPBox-Office". jpbox-office.com.
  19. ^ Cohn, Lawrence (7 January 1991). "Top 60 foreign-language films in the U.S.". Variety. p. 19.
  20. ^ Levy, Emanuel (25 July 2006). "Oscar: Foreign Language Films as Best Picture Nominees". Emanuellevy.com. Archived from the original on 13 November 2017. Retrieved 13 November 2017.
  21. ^ "The 42nd Academy Awards (1970) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  22. ^ "Film in 1970". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  23. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Z". Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  24. ^ Major, Wade. "World Class". Directors Guild of America. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  25. ^ "Z". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  26. ^ Weiler, AH (6 January 1970). "National Film Critics Crown 'Z,' Jon Voight, Miss Redgrave". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  27. ^ "1969 Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  28. ^ "Votes for Z (1968)". BFI. British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 27 July 2017. Retrieved 29 June 2021.
  29. ^ Will Higbee (2006). Mathieu Kassovitz. Manchester University Press. p. 11. ISBN 9780719071461. One final and important influence from 1970s French Cinema is Costa-Gavras. A regular visitor to the apartment block where Kassovitz grew up – his son lived in the same building – Costa-Gavras was another of the filmmakers Kassovitz discovered through his parents: 'Môme, mon père m'a montrè ses films et ce que j'ai fait a ètè influencè par des films comme Z ou L'Aveu. Des films forts, profonds, oû l'on touch à des sujets importants, primordiaux' (Kassovitz 1998).
  30. ^ Michael Gott; Leslie Kealhofer-Kemp (21 September 2020). ReFocus: The Films of Rachid Bouchareb. Edinburgh University Press. p. 107. ISBN 9781474466530. When Bouchareb was asked specifically about the titles that influenced his controversial film Outside the Law (2010), he said: "It was a mix. A lot of political movies like Z by Costa-Gavras and Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers."
  31. ^ Alex Ritman (17 February 2020). "Oliver Stone to Head Jury of Inaugural Red Sea Film Festival in Saudi Arabia". Hollywood Reporter. The Hollywood Reporter, LLC. Retrieved 29 June 2021. Stone will also present a classic film that inspired him, Costa Gavras' Z.
  32. ^ Matt Zoller Seitz; Ramin Bahrani; Kiese Laymon (13 September 2016). The Oliver Stone Experience. ABRAMS. p. 78. ISBN 9781613128145.
  33. ^ Stephen Lavington (30 November 2011). Virgin Film: Oliver Stone. Ebury Publishing. ISBN 9780753547663. One film often referred to by Stone in interviews was Z (Constantin Costa Gavras, 1968) and its influence is immediately apparent.
  34. ^ Thompson, Richard (July–August 1976). "STOKED". Film Comment: 10–21.
  35. ^ Steven Soderbergh (2002). "Ed Kelleher/1998". In Kaufman, Anthony (ed.). Steven Soderbergh - Interviews. University Press of Mississippi. p. 107. ISBN 9781578064298. Retrieved 12 July 2021.
  36. ^ Kaufman, Anthony, ed. (2015). Steven Soderbergh - Interviews, Revised and Updated. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781626745407. Retrieved 12 July 2021.
  37. ^ Palmer, R. Barton; Sanders, Steven M., eds. (28 January 2011). The Philosophy of Steven Soderbergh. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813139890. Retrieved 12 July 2021. Soderbergh called Traffic his "$47 million Dogme film" and used hand-held camera, available light, and (ostensibly) improvistational performance in an attempt to present a realistic story about illegal drugs. He prepared by analyzing two political films made in a realist style: Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966) and Z (Constantin Costa-Gavras, 1969), both of which he described as having "that great feeling of things that are caught, instead of staged, which is what we were after."
  38. ^ Mark Gallagher (4 April 2013). "Hollywood Authorship and Transhistorical Taste Cultures". Another Steven Soderbergh Experience - Authorship and Contemporary Hollywood. University of Texas Press. p. 55. ISBN 9780292748811. Retrieved 12 July 2021.
  39. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "William Friedkin's Favorite Films of all Time". YouTube. Fade In Magazine. Retrieved 29 June 2021.
  40. ^ Archives, L. A. Times (4 February 1988). "M. Bozzuffi; Tough Guy in French Films". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 March 2023.
  41. ^ Jennifer Vineyard (10 October 2012). "Ben Affleck on Why He Got to Look Hot in Argo". Vulture. Vox Media, LLC. Retrieved 11 April 2023. Affleck: "I haven't done a movie that I haven't ripped off from another one! [Laughs.] This movie, we ripped off All the President's Men, for the CIA stuff, a John Cassavetes movie called The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, which we really used as a reference for the California stuff, and then there was kind of a Battle of Algiers, Z/Missing/Costa-Gavras soup of movies, that we used for the rest of it."

External links[edit]