A politician is assassinated in a crowded city square in front of hundreds of onlookers—but the conservative government and corrupt police nearly pass off the murder as an accident. So goes the plot of Z, a French thriller coming through town via a fresh 35mm print to celebrate its 40th anniversary.
This is the part of the review where I'm required to drone on about how the movie's political rhetoric is still remarkably relevant, and that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and BLAH. Whatever. Actually, Z feels antiquated, with an incredibly unlikely plot that raises unintentional questions: Is the investigator really having that much trouble proving the dude was murdered? Are the conservative government's fall guys really that gullible? Would someone who's been hired to commit a political murder really mention it blithely at a bar? Would a pedestrian who's being chased by a car trying to run him over in the middle of a city really have that much difficulty finding a flight of stairs or a building to duck into?
What's interesting about watching director Costa-Gavras' 1969 film—and it is still worth watching—is that it perches, uncomfortably but uniquely, in the hangover of the French new wave (a movement that practically invented twee) and in anticipation of the hard-boiled conspiracy thrillers of the paranoid '70s. Characters experience brief flashbacks driven by sense memories (a woman's wig, a man's cologne), all of them giving the movie softness and a human touch—but then they're thrust back into anonymity by the machinations of the plot. As wrongdoers are brought to justice toward the film's conclusion, one of the characters cheerily says, "It's as if it never happened!" As Z all too chillingly reminds us, in the end it doesn't really matter who was killed, or by whom, or why.