Z and Blow-Up


Costa-Gavras’s 1969 film, Z, is a fictional depiction of the 1963 assassination of Grigoris Lambrakis, a leftist Greek politician. His killing set off a series of events that culminated in a military coup in Greece in 1967.

Lambrakis (Yves Montand) arrives in an unidentified city (Thessaloniki was where the assassination took place) for a political rally. Although he is warned that there may be a murder plot against him, he insists on going ahead with the rally. As he is walking across a plaza, a truck appears out of nowhere, and a man in the back of it hits him on the head with a club. Lambrakis dies from the injury several days later.

The state security police, who arranged the killing, then carry out a cover-up. Their plans are foiled by two unlikely characters. The first is a cynical and voyeuristic photojournalist (Jacques Perrin). At first, he is only interested in finding a good story, but as he learns more about what happened, he becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth. The second is Christos Sartzetakis (Jean-Louis Trintignant), an examining magistrate with conservative political views. When his superiors warn him that digging too deeply in the case could harm his career, this seems to only make him more determined to go through with his investigation. The story is about how under extreme conditions unlikely people can become heroes.

Although this film was made in the 1960’s, it has an eerie relevance to current events in Greece. In particular, the film depicts a close relationship between the police and a far right group. One is reminded of the current coy relations between the Greek police and the Golden Dawn. The leader of the fascist group in this film talks about how he wants to go “beyond Left and Right”. Does this sound familiar?


While Z is about two men who rise to the occasion, Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film, Blow-Up is about a man who fails the greatest challenge of his life. David Hemmings plays a jaded fashion photographer who unwittingly photographs a murder scene. When he realizes that a crime took place, he starts to piece things together, but he allows frivolous distractions to prevent him from ever discovering what actually happened – or even from simply notifying the police.

Some see Blow-Up as a critique of Britain’s mod culture of the 1960’s, but I think that Antonioni was trying to make a larger point. His film is about how we let the distractions of our daily lives blind us to the crimes that go on around us in this world.

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