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France-Algeria, 1968

Director: Constantin Costa-Gavras

Production: Reggane Films (Algeria) and O.N.C.I.C. (France); EastmanColor (print by Technicolor), 35mm; running time: 123 minutes, American version: 127 minutes, Canadian version: 152 minutes, West German version: 145 minutes; length: 3472 meters. Released February 1969, Paris. Filmed in Algiers.

Producers: Jacques Perrin and Hamed Rachedi with Eric Schlumberger and Philippe d'Argila; screenplay: Constantin Costa-Gavras and Jorge Semprun, from the novel by Vassilis Vassilikos; photography: Raoul Coutard; editor: François Bonnot; sound: Michèle Boehm; art director: Jacques d'Ovidio; music: Mikis Theodorakis.

Cast: Yves Montand (The Deputy Z); Jean-Louis Trintignant (The Magistrate); Jacques Perrin (The Journalist); François Pértier (The Public Prosecutor); Irene Papas (Hélène); Georges Géret (Nick); Charles Denner (Manuel); Bernard Fresson (Matt); Jean Bouise (Pirou); Jean-Pierre Miquel (Pierre); Renato Salvatori (Yago); Marcel Bozzufi (Vago); Julien Guiomar (Colonel); Pierre Dux (General); Guy Mairess (Dumas); Magail Noël (Nick's sister); Clotilde Joano (Shoula); Maurice Baquet (Bald man); Jean Dasté (Coste); Gérard Darrieu (Baron); José Artur (Newspaper editor); Van Doude (Hospital director); Eva Simonet (Niki); Hassan Hassani (General's chauffeur); Gabriel Jabbour (Bozzini); Jean-François Gobbi (Jimmy the boxer); Andrée Tainsy (Nick's other); Steve Gadler (English photographer); Bob de Bragelonne (Undersecretary of State).

Awards: Cannes Film Festival, Best Actor (Trintignant), 1969; Oscars for Best Foreign Film and Film Editing, 1969; New York Film Critics Awards, Best Motion Picture and Best Direction, 1969.



Costa-Gavras, Constantin, and Jorge Semprun, Z; ou, L'Anatomie d'un assassinal politique, in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), October 1969.


Michalczyk, John, Costa-Gavras: The Political Fiction Film, Philadelphia, 1984.


Kostolefsky, Joseph, in Take One (Montreal), March-April 1969.

Georgakas, Dan, and Gary Crowdus, "Costa-Gavras Talks," in Take One (Montreal), July-August 1969.

Esnault, Philippe, "Cinéma et politique," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), October 1969.

Georgakas, Dan, and Gary Crowdus, "Costa-Gavras Talks about Z," in Cineaste (New York), Winter 1969–70.

Loewinger, Lawrence, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1969–70.

Georgakas, Dan, in Film Society Review (New York), December 1969.

Gow, Gordon, in Films and Filming (London), December 1969.

Sarris, Andrew, in Village Voice (New York), 11 December 1969.

Kael, Pauline, in New Yorker, 13 December 1969.

Derain, Aline, in Films in Review (New York), January 1970.

Costa-Gavras, Constantin, "Pointing Out the Problems," in Films and Filming (London), June 1970.

Haskell, Molly, "Jean-Louis Trintignant," in Show (Los Angeles), 20 August 1970.

"An Interview with Costa-Gavras and Jorge Semprun," in Film Society Review (New York), January 1971.

Mellen, Joan, "Fascism in the Contemporary Cinema," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1971.

Hennebelle, G., "Z Movies; or, What Hath Costa-Gavras Wrought," in Cineaste (New York), no. 2, 1974.

Marty, A., "In contresens idéologique sur l'oeuvre de Costa-Gavras," in Image et Son (Paris), December 1977.

Camy, G., "Costa-Gavras: Un certain cinéma politique," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), November 1983.

Johnston, Sheila, "Costa-Gavras," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1984.

Poulle, F., "Le cinéma politique de grande audience, autopsie d'un prototype: Z," in Cinemaction (Conde-sur-Noireau), no. 35, November 1985.

Serceau, Daniel, "La trilogie," in Cinemaction (Conde-sur-Noireau), no. 35, November 1985.

Dreifus, Claudia, "Constantin Costa-Gavras: Politics at the Box Office," in The Progressive, vol. 52, no. 9, September 1988.

Castiel, E., in Séquences (Haute-Ville), no. 189/190, March/June 1997.

* * *

On 22 May 1963, after speaking at an anti-nuclear rally in Salonika, the charismatic Greek deputy Grigoris Lambrakis was clubbed to death in the street. The conservative government described the event as "an unfortunate traffic accident," but following protests from the opposition leader, George Papandreou, a young examining magistrate was appointed to investigate the incident. Contrary to government expectations the magistrate refused to be manipulated and the intended cover-up became an embarrassing revelation: Lambrakis had been murdered by an extreme right-wing organization sanctioned by the authorities. Key witnesses began to disappear, and the deepening scandal eventually brought down the Karamanlis government. The Centre Left under George Papandreou came to office, but the king discharged his government, and on 21 April 1967 the military seized power. The examining magistrate was relieved of his responsibilities and strict censorship imposed.

These chilling facts form the basis for Costa-Gavras's gripping political thriller Z. His narrative came not directly from the investigation, but from the novel by Vassilis Vassilikos, a Lambrakis follower, who had been given access to the evidence during the brief period of Centre Left rule. Published in 1966, the novel ends with the trial of the conspirators, but Costa-Gavras, benefiting from historical hindsight, extends his version to include the military coup.

For his adaptation, Costa-Gavras sought the collaboration of Jorge Semprun who had previously worked with Resnais on La guerre est finie. The flashbacks providing background to the protagonists or exposing government manipulation, are characteristic of Semprun's organizing strategies. To produce a taut, fast-moving film narrative, the filmmaker discarded the novel's philosophical and reflective passages and reduced the range of characters, so that the journalist/photographer, for example, is a composite of several reporters. The dialogue has also been pared down, though some contemporary allusions to the May 1968 events in Paris have been added.

Casting posed few problems since left-wing activists like Yves Montand were more than keen to participate. His engaging performance as Z is matched by that of Irene Papas as his tearful Hélène; JeanLouis Trintignant lends a steely authority to the magistrate's role. Financing the production, however, proved difficult: United Artists, for one, fearing retaliation, declined to back the project. Eventually the Algerian authorities, eager to add stature to their embryonic film industry, provided both finance and locations.

Although the film contains no explicit topographical references, visual clues such as barely disguised portraits of the Greek royal family, the insignia of Olympian airways, and the Fix brand of beer indicate Greece as the setting, while the distinctive music of Mikis Theodorakis seals this identification. A challenging screen statement invites the viewer to associate the film's action with contemporary events: "Any similarity to actual events or persons living or dead is not coincidental. It is intentional."

With the subtitle "Anatomy of a Political Assassination," the film exploits the investigative thriller format with more than a hint of melodrama. The characters, starkly differentiated, border on caricatures. The fascist elements have few physical or moral virtues: they are fat, ugly, or bald, and count pederasts amongst their numbers. Members of the humanitarian left, epitomized in Yves Montand, are attractive, warm-hearted, sensitive, and dignified to the point that Lawrence Loewinger termed them "cardboard saints." Political arguments are equally simplified and the foregrounding of dramatic situations leaves little room for objectivity. If derisive music accompanies the grotesque comic-opera officials as they parade before the magistrate, for the idolized Z the theme is resonant and emotionally charged, while tragic tones prepare the arrival of his widow Hélène. Camerawork, too, points up the message with telescopic close-ups for the long-awaited arrival of the deputy's plane, while blurred subjective shots after the clubbing reinforce the emotional participation. Similarly close-ups, alternating with all-embracing longshots, draw the viewer into the physical violence of the mob behaviour, and satirically emphatic zoom shots pick out the medal-bedecked chests of the corrupt generals. Such rhetorical devices effectively preclude a reflective approach: the persuasive presentation carries the viewer forward eager to unravel the web of deceit and obfuscation.

Central to the film's narrative strategy is the editing process. Each witness will give a subjective account of events, set against a narrative flashback, to provide a further piece in the jigsaw. As false witnesses parrot their prepared statements, betraying themselves by the too-often repeated phrase "supple and ferocious like a tiger," there is a revealing disjuncture between speaker and image. Again, parallel editing juxtaposes the sentiments of the peace rally with the mob violence outside. Finally, repeated flashbacks of the murdered deputy create a sense of his immanence, thus providing a visual metaphor for the meaning of the Greek word "Z": "he still lives."

—R. F. Cousins

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Z, z [In BrE called ‘zed’, in AmE ‘zee’]. The 26th and last LETTER of the Roman ALPHABET as used for English. It originated as the 7th letter of the Phoenician alphabet and became the 7th letter of the Hebrew and Greek alphabets. The Greeks called it zeta (Z, ζ), probably first pronouncing it /dz/, then /z/. The Romans adopted Z later than the rest of the alphabet, since /z/ was not a native Latin sound, adding it at the end of their list of letters and using it rarely. They did not always use it to transliterate zeta. Old English did not normally use z, the name Elizabeth being an exception. The use of zed as a term of ABUSE in SHAKESPEARE'S King Lear (‘Thou whoreson zed! Thou unnecessary letter!’, 2.2) suggests that although it was then being increasingly written it was held in low esteem. The modification of BrE zed (from Old FRENCH zede, through LATIN, from GREEK zeta) to zee in AmE appears to have been by ANALOGY with bee, dee, vee, etc.

Sound values and double Z

(1) In VERNACULAR English, z represents a voiced alveolar fricative, pairing with s as its voiceless equivalent. It occurs initially, medially, and finally, sometimes doubled: zebra, horizon, dazzle, daze, buzz. (2) Before the ending -ure, the initial i-glide of the u is commonly assimilated to the z, producing the sound ‘zh’: azure, seizure (compare measure). (3) The sound /z/ is more frequently represented by s than z. (4) Some possibly echoic monosyllables have zz (buzz, fizz, fuzz, jazz, whiz(z)), as have disyllables with the iterative suffix -le (dazzle, razzle, fizzle, sizzle, guzzle). (5) Mono-syllables ending in single z after a short vowel (fez, quiz) inflect with zz: fez/fezzes, quiz/quizzing. (6) Final y requires preceding zz if the preceding vowel is short (dizzy, muzzy), but only z if long (lazy, crazy, dozy).

Voiced and voiceless Z

The voiced/voiceless distinction of /s, z/ in OLD ENGLISH was predictable and did not need to be shown in spelling; medial s was voiced, as is still largely the case (busy, weasel), but French influence after the Norman Conquest in 1066 led to the writing of medial voiced s as z or zz in some words of Old English or Old Norse derivation: adz(e), amaze, blaze, craze, daze, dazzle, dizzy, doze, drizzle, freeze, furze, gaze, hazel, ooze, sneeze, squeeze, wheeze, wizen. Some related nouns have voiceless s (brazen/brass, frozen/frost, glaze/glass, graze/grass), others voiced s (nuzzle/nose, wizard/wise). Words of Old English origin were not spelt with final z: sneeze, booze, not *sneez, *booz.

English Z, French S

Many FRENCH-derived words contain z or zz, sometimes where French has or had s: English breeze (French brise), buzzard, citizen, embezzle, frenzy (French frénésie), frieze (French frise), gizzard, grizzle (French grisailler), hazard (French hasard), lozenge (French losange), mizzen, muzzle (French museau), razor (French rasoir), seize (French saisir). Prize corresponds to French prix and size, a clipping of assize, is derived from French assise. Baize appears to have been a misinterpretation of the French plural baies. Elsewhere, English z matches French z: bizarre, bronze, dozen, gauze, lizard.

Exotic Z

(1) Initial z was used from the 14c in new words derived from French or Latin, often originating in other languages such as ARABIC, SPANISH, and Greek: zeal, zebra, zenith, zero, zest, zeugma, zirconium, zither, zodiac, zone, zoology. GERMAN was the source of zigzag, zinc, while zombie originated in Africa. (2) Medial z occurs in more recent loans: Persian bazaar, Spanish bonanza, maize, Kongo chimpanzee, Greek horizon, German (from Italian) marzipan, Polish mazurka, Arabic muezzin, ITALIAN stanza, French (through Latin from Greek) trapeze. (3) In recent loans, z usually retains the value given to it in the source language:/ts/ in German Alzheimer's disease, Nazi, Zeitgeist and Italian pizzicato (mezzo-soprano has /dz/ in Italian). Older German loans may have a preceding t: quartz, waltz (compare modern German Quarz,Walzer). (4) In the tz combination, the t induces devoicing of a following z, as in blitz, chintz. Quartz and quarts are homophones. (5) Silent z occurs in recent French loans: laissez-faire, rendezvous, répondez s'il vous plaît. (6) Because of German influence, in the Greek combining form schizo-(as in schizophrenia), z is pronounced as a voiceless affricate, /ts/. (7) In the word Czech, the digraph cz has the value of English ch, but in czar the initial c is silent and z has its normal value, as also in the alternative (and etymologically more accurate) spelling tsar. (8) Of unknown but recent origin are bamboozle, blizzard, puzzle.

Archaic Scots Z

In ScoE, some words, including names, have a silent z (capercailzie pronounced ‘capercailie’, Dalrulzion ‘Dalrullion’, Dalziel ‘Deyell’, gaberlunzie ‘gabber-loonie’) or a digraph nz pronounced /ŋ/, as in the name Menzies, traditionally pronounced ‘Mingis’ (ng as in singer). Here z is an adaptation of the Old English letter YOGH (ʒ) rather than etymological z.

British and American differences

Some alternative s/z spellings are found, the most widespread the Greek-derived suffix -ise/ize (regularise/regularize), where z is universal in AmE, and s is widely used in BrE and preferred in AusE. This variation also occurs in AmE cozy, cognizant, BrE cosy, cognisant. See S, X.

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Z1 / / (also z) • n. (pl. Zs or Z's ) 1. the twenty-sixth letter of the alphabet. ∎  denoting the next after Y in a set of items, categories, etc. ∎  denoting a third unknown or unspecified person or thing: X sold a car to Y (a car dealer) who in turn sold it to Z (a finance company). ∎  (usu. z) the third unknown quantity in an algebraic expression. ∎  (usu. z) denoting the third axis in a three-dimensional system of coordinates: [in comb.] the z-axis. 2. a shape like that of a capital Z: [in comb.] a Z-shaped crack in the paving stone. 3. used in repeated form to represent the sound of buzzing or snoring. PHRASES: catch some (or a few) Zs inf. get some sleep: I'll go back to the hotel and catch some Zs.Z2 • symb. Chem. atomic number.

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Z ★★★★ 1969

The assassination of a Greek nationalist in the 1960s and its aftermath are portrayed by the notorious political director as a gripping detective thriller. Excellent performances, adequate cinematic techniques, and important politics in this highly acclaimed film. 128m/C VHS, DVD . FR Yves Montand, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Irene Papas, Charles Denner, Georges Geret, Jacques Perrin, Francois Perier, Marcel Bozzuffi; D: Constantin Costa-Gavras; W: Constantin Costa-Gavras; M: Mikis Theodorakis. Oscars ‘69: Film Editing, Foreign Film; Cannes ‘69: Special Jury Prize, Actor (Trintignant); Golden Globes ‘70: Foreign Film; N.Y. Film Critics ‘69: Director (Costa-Gavras), Film; Natl. Soc. Film Critics ‘69: Film.

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Z 26th and last letter of the English alphabet and a letter also included in the alphabets of many other w European languages. It is derived from the Semitic letter zayin, which passed into Greek as zeta where it was given its present form. It was higher up the order in these alphabets (6th or 7th) and was not needed by the Romans until they began to use Greek words in the 2nd century ad, at which time they added it as the last letter of their alphabet. In English z is a consonant, usually pronounced as a voiced counterpart of s, as in zoo. Phoneticians refer to this consonant as a voiced alveolar fricative. The same letter represents a palatal form of this sound (zh), in such words as seizure, azure.

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Z A formal notation, based on set algebra and predicate calculus, for the specification of computing systems. It was developed at the Programming Research Group, Oxford University. Z specifications have a modular structure. See also constructive specification.

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Z, 26th and last letter of the alphabet, representing the voiced correspondent of voiceless s, as in the English zebra. Its original is the Greek zeta, which the Romans borrowed and added to their alphabet.

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Z. Abbreviated prefix to numbers in the Zimmerman catalogue of Henry Purcell's works.

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z (ital.) Maths., symbol for a Cartesian coordinate (as in z-axis)
• (ital.) Chem., symbol for charge number
• Meteorol., symbol for haze
• (ital.) Maths., symbol for an algebraic variable.

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Z The vertical component of the geomagnetic field.