Costa Gravas's "Z"

My favorite political film of all time is Costa Gravas' "Z", an allegory about the political situation in Greece in the late 1960s made shortly after the Colonels' Coup there. It was shot in recently liberated Algeria, with a smattering of great French actors like Yves Montand and Jean-Louis Trintignant and the fantastic music of Mikis Theodorakis, who mixed martial beats with the ticks of an IBM Selectric typewriter in a fantastic final scene in which military coup plotters are charged with the murder of Montand's assassinated politician. Trintignant's prosecutor who investigates the assassination, with his hyper-chic graduated shades, stays icily cool as he is put under pressure to bury the case. It is a case study in how dictatorships and police states work.

For me, "Z" is not only a perfectly executed political thriller, but a fantastic testimony of the political solidarity that existed across the Mediterranean against a series of takeovers by reactionary forces in the 1960s, often with the backing of the CIA. (Indeed, for much of the world, the 1960s were not a period of great liberation and free love as Westerners tend to remember, but of the establishment of tyrannies.) The irony of course is that "Z" was itself shot in Boumedienne's Algeria, the product of a coup against Ben Bella which rid the country of any democratic, constitutional institutions.

Many of the scenes in "Z" will seem eerily familiar to Egyptians and others in this region, from the use of plainclothes thugs against democracy activists to the ubiquity of police and army officers and their plots against any challengers. (Right now, an Egyptian might replace "Z" with "B"...) 

I mention this because AUC is hosting Costa Gravas tonight (details after the jump) in a panel discussion with veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi and French journalist and diplomat Eric Rouleau. 

       “Reflections on Global Affairs: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”
       Panelists:
       Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General
       Eric Rouleau, Journalist, Writer and Diplomat
       Costa Gavras, Director, Producer and Screenwriter
       Thursday, May 6, 2010, VIP Reception 6:45, Panel Discussion: 7:30 pm Oriental Hall, AUC Downtown

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.