"Il est vivant!"
— French phrase meaning "He lives!"
A 1969 French political thriller based on the assassination of Greek politician Gregoris Lambrakis. It is directed by Costa-Gavras.
In an unnamed country (hinted to be Greece), an outspoken politician (named only as "the Deputy") is struck down after a peace rally and hospitalized. When he dies, a public prosecutor is sent to look into his death and finds corruption, coverup, and much more.
Notable for being darkly humorous and satirical, but still having quite a chilling ending.
- Arc Words: After the Deputy dies, this is what "Z" becomes, since it refers to a popular Greek slogan, "Zei", meaning "he lives."
- Batman Gambit: The Judge accuses Vago of being a communist, knowing that he will likely reveal his right wing ties to refute the charges.
- Black Shirt: Almost all the troublemakers at the demonstration turn out to be a member of CROC, an anti-Communist organization run by the chief of police.
- Camp Gay : Vago. Of the "likes young boys" variety.
- The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: The "incident" was clearly a drunken accident. That club-shaped wound on his head was from him hitting it on the curb. Despite being in the middle of the street.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: During the demonstration/assassination scene, there's a close-up of the police holding their clubs at waist-level and wriggling them vigorously. No further comment needed?
- Doomed Moral Victor: See Downer Ending below.
- Downer Ending: And how! After the prosecutor has arrested all the conspirators, the ending crawl says that the junta takes over, key witness die, the prosecutor is removed from the case, and the junta proceeds to ban nearly everything they don't like.
- History since 1969 provides some comfort for that Downer Ending. The military junta that took over in 1967 (and was still running things in Greece when the film was released) was toppled in 1974. The brave prosecutor became President of Greece in 1985.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Shown over and over by the CROC and future junta members, as they assume that every right-minded citizen will of course approve of their campaign of terror and assassination.
- Foregone Conclusion: It's based on an actual military coup.
- General Ripper: The General's (No Name Given) opening speech reveals him to be obsessively anti-communist, and given to bizarre, florid statements and tortured metaphors. And everyone defers to his authority. Later scenes reveal he's also an anti-Semite. At the end, he reveals his involvement by using a strange phrase that's been popping up in talks with CROC members.
- Hope Spot: The magistrate unravels the conspiracy, and the audience is treated to a montage of various military conspirators being charged with murder and sent to trial. Then the ending happens.
- Insistent Terminology: The magistrate repeatedly corrects anyone who refers to the assassination as a murder, preferring to call it an "incident." When the magistrate switches to calling it murder, the indictments of military officers start rolling in.
- Intrepid Reporter: One of them helps provide the evidence that drives the investigation. He even provides the ending narration until the part where he gets arrested
- Long List: The ending crawl gives one for stuff the junta banned: peace movements, strikes, labor unions, long hair on men, The Beatles, other modern and popular music ("la musique populaire"), Sophocles, Leo Tolstoy, Aeschylus, writing that Socrates was homosexual, Eugene Ionesco, Jean-Paul Sartre, Anton Chekhov, Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, Mark Twain, Samuel Beckett, the bar association, sociology, international encyclopedias, free press, new math, and the letter Z.
- The Man Is Keeping Us Down
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: The military junta in the film that eventually takes over the country.
- No Name Given: Almost everybody in the film. The public prosecutor is billed just as "Public Prosecutor."
- One-Letter Title
- Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: Subverted with the opening crawl.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Vago puts on a pair of glasses to avoid being recognized.
- Propaganda Machine: The General's opening speech describes how the government is indoctrinating the public, starting with youths in school.
- Pyrrhic Villainy: While the General and his cronies have undoubtedly "won" by the end, the pretense that the country is anything other than a military dictatorship has been destroyed, and the ridiculous and lengthy list of things they've banned strongly suggests that without any checks on their power whatsoever the same foolishness that lead to their horribly transparent assassination is going to ultimately lead the coup to disaster. Which it did.
- Red Scare: The police's default assumption is that any dissident, whistleblower, or Intrepid Reporter is secretly a Communist.
- Ripped from the Headlines: The movie is based on the 1963 assassination of left-wing politician Gregoris Lambrakis, which played a part in destabilising Greece and allowing the military coup of 1967. The main characters are very blatantly based on real persons: the Deputy is Lambrakis, the Magistrate is Christos Sartzetakis (who was twice arrested and tortured by the junta, and later served as President between 1985-1990), the General is arguably Georgios Papadopoulos, and so on.
- The movie's composer, Mikis Theodorakis, was himself arrested, detained, sent into internal exile and interned in a concentration camp at Oropos while the movie was being filmed - his soundtrack had to be smuggled out of Greece. He was released to exile in France after a year, at the intervention of Radical Party leader Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber.
- Roman à Clef: As previously mentioned, the story is that of Gregoris Lambrakis.
- Running Gag: The military officers all vainly try to exit via a locked back door to escape the journalists after getting formally charged one after the other.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: After all that trouble...things just to From Bad to Worse.
- Self-Serving Memory: The police are amazingly calm and competent during the demonstration and "accident," if the general's testimony is to be believed.
- The Sixties
- Soundtrack Dissonance : An upbeat rock instrumental plays after the Deputy’s critical condition is disclosed.
- Tap on the Head : Happens repeatedly, with realistic results in terms of concussion. The truncheon blow to the Deputy’s head results in fatal brain damage.
- This Is a Work of Fiction: Memorably inverted with the opening faux-disclaimer. See the page quote above.
- Turn Off the Camera: The journalist who tries to interview the Doctor’s widow ostensibly agrees not to take pictures of her, but keeps taking unaimed snapshots.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: See Downer Ending, above.