Hélio Cabral (Journal de Resenhas)


Commentary on the film directed by Costa-Gravas

Constantin Costa-Gravas is a Greek filmmaker (naturalized French), recognized as one of the most important representatives of political militancy cinema. He was born in 1933. He studied literature at the Sorbonne. His films are intensely topical and reverberating. A classic shot in the 1960s stands out in his filmography, Z. It is one of the strongest political films of all time. Costa-Gravas brought together an unbeatable cast for this film, led by Yves Montand and Irene Papas (she is Greek, played Electra, among other characters).

In the script, the murder of a progressive politician and the preparation of the Greek military dictatorship. “Z” (from the Greek letter Zeta, which refers to 'Zoé', life), based on a novel by Vassili Vassilikos, has as its backdrop a real event that occurred in Greece in 1963. That year, Gregoris Lambrakis, a politician, was murdered of socialist inspiration, renowned doctor, award-winning athlete, pacifist. The investigations led to a plot orchestrated by the police authorities. The investigating judge (played by the then very young Jean-Louis Trintignant) did not flinch in the face of political pressure. He resisted. The military coup that followed resulted, among others, in the annulment or suspension of the various convictions that had been carried out.

Z illustrates the environment of traditional coups, different from the democratic subversions resulting from the expansion of a new extreme right, as we read in Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt (how democracies die, Zahar) and in David Runciman (How Democracy Comes to an End, Still). at the time of Z, there are tanks, men in uniform with glasses ray ban, an obsession with the red peril and domino theories. According to the latter, which were pontificated during the Cold War, if Kremlin sympathizers won somewhere, all neighboring countries would be dragged along, exactly as a domino knocks the others down in a row. It was one of the ideological underpinnings for interventions in Southeast Asia and Latin America. At that time, concepts of hybrid warfare, enunciated by Andrew Korybko, a political analyst, were not fully applied, for whom the efficiency of geopolitical dominance would demand less tanks and more propaganda. Korybko also studied the uses of fake news in the context of the destabilization of democracies.

The film begins with a lecture (addressed to military personnel) about fungi that threatened Greek crops. Intense spraying with copper sulfate was recommended. It follows a high-ranking soldier, analogously treating another plague, defined as an ideological disease. He preached preventive combat, in schools, universities and wherever there were young workers. All isms should be annihilated (communism, imperialism, anarchism). An imaginary “sane part of society” should be protected, which meant the persecution of beatniks and pacifists. There is an anthological scene in which police officers cut the hair of young protesters.

A rally of progressives was expected, in which the politician-doctor (magnificently played by Yves Montand) would speak. Paradoxically, on the same night, there would be a performance by Russian dancers from the Bolshoi, a very prestigious event. One has the impression that the events take place in Thessaloniki, in the northeast region of Greece. Progressives have difficulty holding the rally. They don't get the necessary permits. The authorities put up all sorts of obstacles, even though they always answer vaguely: let them meet in Russia!

Armed groups threaten meeting organizers. Assembled in an ultra-assembled conservative party, they share a vocabulary that identifies them. They see themselves as antibodies in the fight against the communists. The politician is attacked. He then passes away. Two members of this conservative group stand out, Yago and Vago, who are responsible for the murder. The group defended values ​​such as homeland, religion, monarchy and Western Christian civilization, which they defined with little clarity and objectivity.

The murdered politician's wife, played by Irene Papas, goes to the place. Taken by intense pain, she reflects on a marriage that she was in danger. The scene in which the Greek actress gathers her husband's belongings in the hotel, just as she smells the cologne she was wearing, is very moving.

The investigating judge, assigned to the cause, begins to take depositions. He treats the facts as an “accident”. He notices that some of those involved referred to facts and people as something “light and fierce like a tiger”. Cleverly, when taking the testimony of one of the main people involved, he accuses him of being a communist. The answer, thoughtless, condemned the deponent. He swore that he was not a communist, and that he persecuted communists.

Without much difficulty, the investigating judge reached the real masterminds of the murder. At a certain point he stops referring to the “accident”, understanding the situation as, in fact, a “murder”. He condemned the military involved, even though he was subjected to all kinds of threats.

Z it was received in the 1960s as a denunciation of the oppression that was observed in the context of the cold war. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, it illustrated contradictions and suggested course correction. Costa-Gravas filmed in 1983 Missing. In this film, an American father (played by Jack Lemmon) desperately searches for his son swallowed up by the Chilean dictatorship. Costa-Gravas maintains the same tone, one of denunciation, translated in a circumspect way. In the coming decades, the 1990s and 2000s, Z seemed like a reliquary of lost illusions, in the logic that history was coming to an end, and that the last one was disappearing, as announced by Francis Fukuyama, in the service of an important think tank.

Z reappears as a testimony of a distant and different time, in which different means from the current ones resulted in ends that today are achieved in other ways, like an imaginary and vicious consensus building with public opinion, which is not known for sure if it is public or simply published.

The Greek military regime fell shortly after the 1973 student revolt, crystallizing the new situation in the 1975 Constitution. The left won in 1980. The country joined the European Union. Progressive trends, which grouped together in 1974, New Democracy, Democratic Union, Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement, men like Andreas Papandreou (son of George), Konstantinos Karamanlis, Khristos Sartezetakis, were anguished with the loss of American incentives, resulting from the dismantling of the Cold War, however, they rejoiced in the support of European partners, in a new continental reality. At the airport in Athens, the Greeks bound for Paris no longer said that they would go to Europe...

However, the great crisis of 2008 sacrificed Greece to the limit. The inaccurate disclosure of economic data resulted in the discovery that the national debt transcended what was officially announced. The help of the European Union, the strong presence of Germany in this context and the sacrifices imposed on the Greek people made the streets of Athens a morbid scenario that had not been seen since the Nazi occupation, in the second world war. Times have changed.

Z it also makes us reflect on Greece and its legacy. Greece is not only the violence experienced during the dictatorship and denounced in this fascinating film. Greece is not just the set of queues of unemployed looking for food in the great eurozone crisis. Greece is not just the motley community of the Balkan borders. And Greece is not only the abstract admiration for the foundations of civilization, for philosophy, for the theater, for history, for democracy, for Platonic texts, for the Aristotelian canon, for the preaching of the apostle Paul, in Corinth and in Thessalonica. And Greece is not just the Acropolis, the Parthenon, Lycavetos, Crete, Aegina, Poros, the Tower of the Winds or Mount Athos. And Greece is not just the blue of the sky and the sea. For the humanistic tradition Greece is an ideal, much more than an ideal, whose synthesis of freedom (elefteria) was captured in all its splendor in Z, a must-see film by Costa-Gravas.

* Arnaldo Sampaio de Moraes Godoy is a professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of São Paulo-USP.



Algeria / France, 1969, 127 min.
Directed by: Constantin Costa-Gravas
Screenplay: Jorge Semprún and Costa-Gravas.
Photography: Raoul Cotard.
Cast: Yves Montand, Irene Papas, Jean-Louis Trintignant, François Perrier, Jacques Pérrin.


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