Film Review: “Z: il est vivant!”


Few films in history have been able to capture the essence of a dictatorship with such dark humor and captivating cinematography as “Z: il est vivant!”. The movie consists of the series of events that occurred before the military regime that ruled Greece throughout the ’60s, from the assassination of a democratic leader of the opposition to the coup d’état that has made the downbeat ending of this film so powerful.

“Z: il est vivant!” opens with a lecture on agricultural policies by one of the military leaders of the country, arguing on how the opposition is a “disease” and must be crushed by the government’s “antibodies” for the well-being of society. Director Costa-Gavras does not waste time in mocking the political atmosphere, as the military men in the opening scene are a satirical representation of the Spanish government, wearing the same colors as the fascist dictator Francisco Franco.

Deputy “Z” is a fictional embodiment of real-life Deputy Grigoris Lambrakis, a democratic, pacifist leader of the Greek opposition who protested the Nazi invasion of Greece in the ’40s and called for nuclear disarmament during the time frame in which the events in the film occur. As the “leftists” organize a rally against nuclear weapons, the government creates all sorts of logistical problems for the dissidents, making it almost impossible for the protest to occur as it was intended.

Eventually, the democratic party finds a way against the inconveniences and Deputy “Z” is able to give his inspiring speech to a large crowd of supporters; however, some criminals (who we eventually discover are financed by the regime) make the protest turn violent, injuring several people and most notoriously: killing Deputy “Z.” This event is the catalyst to heavy protesting and an investigation led by a magistrate to find out what truly occurred on  the night of the assassination.

This film brings the best of satire into the mix, filled with dark humor and comedic episodes such as the government’s criminals saying that they “need a clean sweep, starting with the intellectual scum, to make Greece great again” or people freaking out because someone was accused of being a communist (referencing the Red Scare). “Z: il est vivant” does not only mock Greek politics, it blatantly makes fun of governments all over the globe.

The epilogue at the end of the film is what makes “Z: il est vivant” so special. After a seemingly positive outcome in which the leaders of the country are sentenced to prison for corruption, the narrator tells us that the military took over the country with a coup d’état, installing themselves in power under a totalitarian regime. This government eventually banned “modern art, popular music, modern mathematics, philosophy and the use of the letter ‘Z.’”

The letter “Z” was used in pro-democracy protests in Greece as a reference to Deputy Lambrakis, meaning “He Lives” (translates to French as: “il est vivant”). The argument behind the film is not a cynical perspective on how democratic values are killed by corruption. On the contrary, even in the most oppressing governments in the world such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia and even my homeland Venezuela, freedom, peace and justice are still alive.

Interested? Check out the  film at the Mulva Library.


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