Oscar: Foreign Language Film Oscar–Z (1969)

“Z,” Costa-Gavras’s extraordinarily compelling thriller is one of the fastest, most exciting political melodramas ever made. It’s also one of the few foreign-language films to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. 

Based on the true story of the Lambrakis affair, as it was presented in fictional form in the novel Z, the movie concerns political corruption and injustice.
In 1965, Lambrakis, a professor of medicine, was struck down by a delivery truck as he was leaving a peace meeting. The investigation of his death uncovered a scandalous network of corruption and illegality in the police and in the government. As a result, the leader of the opposition party, George Papandreou, became Premier, but in 1967, a military coup d’etat overturned the legitimate government.
At the time, Costa-Gavras was a young Greek expatriate director. “Z” (and his other movies, such as the English-speaking “Missing”) is based on the tradition of American gangster and prison pictures and the anti-Fascist melodramas Hollywood made in the 1940s, with the same combination of social urgency and message-driven tales.
The director uses a searching, restless camera that’s a little too self-consciously dynamic. And his staccato editing and use of loud music to build up suspense for the violent sequences are at timed manipulative. But overall, “Z” never loses emotional contact with its audience.
“Z” was shot in Algeria, in French, as a French-Algerian co-production, with a powerful score by Mikis Theodorakis (who was under house arrest in Greece at the time), and a script by Jorge Semprun, an exile from Spain.
The all-star cast is headed by Yves Montand, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Irene Papas, and Renato Salvatori. Boasting great cinematography by the French master Raoul Coutard, Z won the Oscar Award for Best Foreign-Language Picture in 1969.
The film’s innovative style launched a whole cycle of films that used the fictionalized investigative form as a camouflage to explore real-life events.
Oscar Context
Since the establishment of the Best Foreign-Language Picture, only five foreign movies have been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Costa-Gavras’s political thriller “Z,” a French-Algerian co-production starring Yves Montand and JeanLouis Trintignant, enjoyed a special position in 1969. “Z” won the Best Foreign Language Picture and it was also nominated in the general competitive category of Best Picture. According to Academy rules, foreign pictures that have opened in the United States are eligible to compete in all the other categories. Indeed, “Z” also won an Oscar for its editor, Francoise Bonnot.
To qualify for Foreign-Language Picture, however, a film must be sent by its country of origin to the Academy, where a committee selects the five nominees. “Z” qualified on both grounds: It was officially submitted as an Algerian entry, and it opened in the United States in December.