Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Yves Montand, Irene Papas, Jacques Perrin
Oscar Wins: Best Film Editing (Francoise Bonnot), Best Foreign Language Film (Algeria)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Costa-Gavras), Best Adapted Screenplay (Jorge Semprun, Costa-Gavras)
SUMMARY: In the 1960s, Greece is run by an extremely right-wing, pro-military government, which is afraid of an infiltration by various leftist groups. In particular, they are concerned with an opposition movement whose Deputy (Yves Montand) is a pacifist, and openly calls for nuclear disarmament. The Deputy is planning on giving a speech at a rally that night, but the government takes steps to prevent this from happening. At the last minute, the rally’s location has to be changed because the hall’s owner changes his mind. Other members of the opposition, close to the Deputy, search out every other hall in town, but each owner makes an excuse about why they cannot host the rally. In the end, the opposition is forced to use a tiny hall across the street from their hotel. In addition, they have received death threats against the Deputy. They warn the security police of these threats, but are purposely ignored. That night, as the Deputy crosses the street to the hall, he is attacked by angry crowd members, and hit on the head (several of these crowd members are shown to be working on orders of the government). The Deputy recovers enough to give his speech, but afterwards, as he crosses back to the hotel, a three-wheeled delivery truck bursts through the police barricade and heads toward him. As they pass, a man in the truck clubs the Deputy over the head. The Deputy is taken to a hospital by his aides, where he dies the next day. In the meantime, the police have determined that the death was an accident – the man in the truck was drunk, and hit the Deputy, causing him to hit his head on the pavement. Both the viewer and the Deputy’s aides realize that the police have intimidated any true witnesses, while also arranging for false ones to corroborate their story.
However, when the (uninfluenced) doctors at the hospital do an autopsy on the Deputy, they find conclusive evidence that the man was hit over the head, and that his head did not strike the pavement. The magistrate assigned to investigate the case (Trintignant) begins to look into things, although he is warned early on that the affair was an accident, and it would be in his best interests to close the case quickly. The magistrate seems poised to do this, based on the evidence, until a photographer comes forward. This photographer was present during the “accident”, and has done some investigating on his own, gathering photographic evidence all the while. He takes this evidence to the magistrate, who begins to uncover the plot. As he works through the lies, the magistrate gradually links the incident to the military police, four high-ranking officers in particular. He causes a sensation when he calls these officers in for questioning, and again is warned not to charge them with anything (because the incident was an “accident”, not murder). However, the magistrate is convinced by the evidence that the Deputy was murdered, and that it was sanctioned by the military police, who wanted to silence him. He indicts the two men who actually murdered the Deputy, as well as all four officers. Unfortunately, the prosecutor assigned to the case is quickly removed and no less than seven key witnesses die in mysterious accidents. The two men who actually killed the Deputy are given prison sentences, but very light ones; the military police officers are only reprimanded. The remaining members of the Deputy’s inner circle either die or are deported. The photographer responsible for uncovering much of the evidence in the case is indicted and convicted of disclosing official documents. All of this causes a huge public outrage, and the government ultimately resigns because of it. However, before a new government can be elected, the military seizes power in the country and ban most modern art forms, including art, literature and music. They also ban the term “Z”, which opposition members used to symbolize the phrase, “He lives” (he referring to the Deputy).
MY TAKE: This movie reminded me of All the President’s Men, because both are about scandals at a very high level of government. Unfortunately, the Greek one did not end as satisfactorily as the American one, as the truth was effectively squashed, and the opposition killed, deported or jailed. It’s maddening. The movies are also similar in that there are too many characters, which muddles the plot. While it helps to show just how widespread the scandals were, the amount of characters in both movies made it hard for me to follow the plot, simply because I couldn’t remember who was who. In addition, none of the planning of either event was shown in the movie, meaning that the viewer is not introduced to the main bad guys until the investigation starts. I think that if this had been done differently, it would be easier to understand. The movies are supposed to be tense political thrillers, but I think I missed a lot of that because of all the political-speak and mass of characters. I think it would be better if there were one, identifiable bad guy (like the man who planned Watergate, or the man who planned the assassination), whose efforts were shown to the viewer. The amount of witnesses/involved people should also have been reduced, so that it was easier to remember who people were, and how they were involved. In this movie, this is made even harder by the fact that most of the characters aren’t given names. Additionally, there are a few flashbacks (mainly by the Deputy and his wife, referencing the fact that they apparently had marital trouble) that only confuse things further. They don’t have any bearing on the plot, and they left me anticipating something that never came (some big revelation about the Deputy’s past, namely). I would have liked to see the bad guys planning the event, the event itself, then the investigation and solving of the plot by the good guys. Had the movies been structured like that, I think it would have been easier (for me, at least) to enjoy and appreciate them.
RATING: Confusing and often slow.