Archive for Z

Closing In

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2019 by dcairns

I hope to finish off all of Costa-Gavras’ work shortly, apart from I guess LA PETITE APOCALYPSE (1993) which seems to be totally unavailable, and ADULTS IN THE ROOM, the new one, which I don’t have any way of seeing right now. I should try and find the distributor actually, I might be able to write a more sympathetic review than Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. No guarantees are possible, of course.

MISSING holds up remarkably well — Fiona was bored by it as a teenager and cried this time, was terrified, moved in all the right ways. I had flashbacks, there were moments, like the white horse running down the street at night, which I suddenly recalled from 1984 or whenever I last saw it. And the sense of Jack Lemmon’s character being politically awakened, opening his eyes at last, and being shocked and hurt by what he sees.

HANNA K. is my least favourite so far. C-G followed MISSING with a look at the Israel-Palestine question through one woman’s complicated love life, and the lens doesn’t seem adequate to the problem. MISSING is more cinematically inventive and unusual than I remembered, but C-G’s own story doesn’t seem to excite him in the follow-up. And then we get three more rather uninspiring US movies.

It seems to me that Mr. Gavras’ best movies are adaptations: THE SLEEPING CAR MURDERS is Sebastien Japrisot, UN HOMME DE TROP is from a novel based fairly closely on fact (the role model for the Bruno Cremer didn’t like the movie), Z and L’AVEAU are based on factual books, I’ve still to catch up with STATE OF SIEGE but it’s factual, SECTION SPECIALE is distilled from a huge history, CLAIR DE FEMME is a novel, MISSING is from the last 65 pages of a fat true story, then we get four originals that aren’t as good as the rest, but in there is LA PETITE APOCALYPSE which sounds intriguing and is from a novel and is French. Since there’s (nearly) always a big topic, this one is about the fall of communism. But I’m not paying 40 Euros for an unsubtitled DVD from eBay.

AMEN. (the Vatican and the Nazis) is from a gigantic play and from history, LE COUPERET is from a Donald Westlake and is just brilliant (big topic: what the job market does to people), and I’ve still to watch EDEN IS WEST (on migration, an original) and LE CAPITAL (on global capitalism, from a novel).

The new one is from former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’s book. The title needs a THE in front of it. People underrate the importance of the definite article. But the lousy reviews don’t put me off at all, I am THERE for this. It’s got a dance number!

People talk about the issues in C-G’s work, and I get that, but they don’t talk about his genius with camera and editing, or about his use of humour, which to me is dazzling. Z is very, very funny, but the laughs are balanced on the edge of an abyss. LE COUPERET is hilarious about the decay of the moral sense. Costa-Gavras says his chief concern is human dignity which sounds very earnest, and it is, but his best stuff isn’t ploddingly worthy, it’s CUTTING.

Man Down

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 17, 2019 by dcairns

A short but dazzling and moving clip from Costa-Gavras’ seriously underrated second film, the wartime epic UN HOMME DE TROP, which will be the subject of Thursday’s edition of The Forgotten.

The movie, an action thriller, is in a way a kind of path not taken for Costa-Gavras. It underperformed and he followed it with Z, which diverts the thriller form into more obviously political directions, and this became the filmmaker’s metier, with the occasional odd diversion like the haunting CLAIR DE FEMME, which also deserves more attention.

This scene combines deliberately mismatched angles, stylised sound design and exponential zooms to create a feverish, haunting atmosphere.

I am honestly mystified why anyone would be interested in WHERE EAGLES DARE (Geoff Dyer has a whole book about it — what a loser!) when they could have this, which is MUCH more exciting and action-packed, but also includes sequences like the above.

Just kidding about Geoff Dyer,

Kill and Pray

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 16, 2019 by dcairns

For fifty years or so, Costa-Gavras has been warning about the slow decay of democratic norms and the moral sense. We must not have been listening, or something.

Z (1969) depicted the state-sponsored murder that led to the overthrow of democracy in the director’s native Greece.

SECTION SPECIALE (1975) was the first film to show how the French justice system under the Nazi occupation curried favor with the occupying forces by passing obscene “retroactive” laws that saw communists and Jews executed for crimes committed before the existence of the law they were prosecuted under.

AMEN. (2002) is about the church and the Nazis.

It’s actually a very fair, even-handed work, showing the real efforts made by the Catholic church to protect Jews from deportation. The trouble is, those efforts focussed largely on rescuing Jews in the immediate vicinity of the Vatican, including converts to Christianity. Pope Pius XII declined to ever condemn the death camps where millions were being murdered.

The character of the Pope is allowed to explain why he believes he can’t risk the church’s very existence by taking a stand against Hitler. But one suspects cowardice.

The film has two heroes. First is the conflicted Kurt Gerstein, a real historical figure, movingly played by Ulrich Tukur (a CG favourite, he’s also in the new one), sweaty, neurotic and a bit messianic. He’s an SS officer, as antisemitic as the next man, you’d think I (which, in the SS, is pretty damned antisemitic) recruited to provide technical assistance in the extermination of “subjects.” And he finds he’s reached the moral limit beyond which he can’t go: any prejudice he has against Jews is not enough to allow him to countenance this. But his actions thereafter are strange: he carries out the work. All the while, he’s clandestinely attempting to get church leaders to expose the genocide to the world. He tries his own German protestant church, and when that proves fruitless (the thing seems too big to believe, but people just don’t want to believe), he tries to go right to the top, to the Pope.

Meanwhile he attends meetings where he’s asked how to make gas chambers more efficient, and he gives sound advice based on his technical expertise in fumigation and disease control. And this advice allows many many more people to be exterminated rapidly. Their suffering is less protracted. But also a lot more people can be killed in a day.

The second protagonist is Matthieu Kassovitz as a young Jesuit who tries to help him. This character combines more than one historical figure, including a priest who voluntarily went into the death camps.

It IS a bit of a problem for the film, this divided focus. It’s based on a controversial play that was about nine hours long and seems never to have actually been performed in its entirety. Highly cinematic passages are interrupted by sudden irruptions of PLAY, where even the style of dialogue seems to become a bit stodgier, more orotund and unnatural. The difficulty is that Gerstein, the real man, is more interesting than the fictional/compound priest, who’s right about everything. Gerstein is only sort of right, and also a lot wrong.

He had been anti-Nazi, and then he joined the S.S. He clearly spent a lot of time, at great personal risk, trying to get the word out about the Holocaust. At the same time, he was deeply involved in it. Some of his contributions may have been a covert, deniable form of sabotage. Some of his contributions contributed materially to industrialized mass murder.

People still disagree about his culpability. He himself seems to have had conflicting ideas about it.

A classic bit of Costa-Gavras text onscreen ~

I recommend the film — it’s very good, if unbalanced and imperfect. The director’s discretion is admirable — we come as close to a gas chamber as you can get, but never see inside. We see Nazis looking through spyholes, we see their (various) reactions, and we see the wooden shutter-type door bulging as unseen victims hammer on it. That, surely, is enough.

And we see freight trains going back and forth throughout the film. The ones going left to right are empty.