How does an opposition manage against an oppressive power? How do they get their message not just to the people, but accepted? Z does not look to answer such questions, for it is still a set of questioning we as a culture and public must answer. Costa-Gavras instead takes a look at the planning and style of a political and ideological battle. He does so often in his career, with broader appeal found in Missing, but Z is his magnum opus. A film where he lays it all on the line to discover what it truly means to struggle in the face of a government body so set on stamping down any and all opposition. What troubling times those are.
“As with mildew, this ideological disease must be fought off preventively.” Who is to say which ideology must be fought off? Government, apparently. Their choice of which ideology is and is not disease is entirely up to them, and therein lies the problem. A stringent process some take in preventing opposition is a worrying problem. It is beginning to encroach in the modern era, and director Costa-Gavras seems to be aware of this throughout Z. Even recently, tightening their grip on the how and why of protests. Dark days indeed, and a rather worrying sign to say the least. It is shown somewhat in Z, where two protests are held alongside one another, yet they are protesting the exact opposite of the other. One is for disarmament, the other is against it. Costa-Garvas presents the idea that any idea is worth protesting for or against.
It is the disparity displayed that is so unnerving. Scenes of riot and anguished protest transition into the egalitarian higher classes, those who do not oppose the government since they do not have to. Their ballgowns and flash cars are their only worries, for if one or the other stops working, their ego and self-righteous position at the top will deflate. Rightly so. “The cream cannot help but always rise up to the top / Well I say, shit floats.”, Jarvis Cocker once quipped. He is not wrong, and that, in part, is relevant to what Z wishes to display. These people are in power and pruned in this high society because they have lied, cheated, backstabbed and burned those who did not feel the need to betray their fellow man. Costa-Garvas takes it one step further and has those hard-working civilians actively trying to fight back against the agencies and bodies of government that crush them down. It is difficult to rise up against such power, but it is harder still to quell such anger.
“Why do the ideas we stand for bring such violence?” Why indeed. Is it because they are threatening the tranquillity of the system that has oppressed so many? Maybe so. What is undoubtedly true though is that the performances are passionate, and they are deeply set in the realism on offer throughout Z. It is full of stuffy halls and meetings of like-minded individuals looking to make a difference. They are the opposition, those fighting for the rights of citizens who may be blinded to the real problems that face them all. That seems to strike up from time to time in the bands of protestors, shouting at one another as the police look on in the distance. The establishment have won, they have managed to thrust its people into a squabble, rather than a unity against the powers that be. Z is unforgivably, uncomfortably real.