«Z» is pronounced «zei» in Greek. It means «he lives», and it is also the title of one of the best made and most politically touchy thrillers of all time. Based on a book by exiled Greek author Vassili Vassilikos, Z is the true story of the trial of the murder of Grigorios Lambrakis. Closer investigation revealed that Lambrakis’ death was an outright assassination, executed by high ranking police officers on the orders of the emerging military regime in Greece. The Lambrakis case was a highly controversial matter both inside and outside Greece in 1963. The country where Z takes place isn’t mentioned by name in the film, but Costa-Gavras has made it impossible not to understand that it is his own home country we’re talking about. It is no surprise that the film was banned by the Greek military junta at the time, and it enhanced the director’s status as persona non grata in Greece.
Z isn’t just the story of Lambrakis, says Costa-Gavras. It is also the story of Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Lumumba and all other fighters for peace who became innocent victims of political power struggles. Z is a symbol of the extreme means fascists were willing to use to reach their goals. It is also a perfect example of the film medium’s ability to convey a political message. In that respect, it is food for thought that the film won the jury prize in Cannes in 1969, one year after the political disruptions in France caused the festival to be cancelled.