Here comes the rave I promised.
A few days back, in the middle of heavy workload, I happened to see Missing. It is a movie directed by Costa Gavras. For the uninitiated, he is the one who directed Z. Till now, these are his only movies that I have seen. Just like in the case of Missing, I didn’t know about Z when I saw it. And, at that time, I had not heard of Costa Gavras either. Still, I had no doubt even then that Z was the work of a responsible genius.
What does responsible genius mean? Long ago, Chomsky had written an extremely influential and important article called The Responsibility of Intellectuals. I would call a person a ‘responsible genius’ if that person fulfills the responsibilities indicated in this article and also deserves the epithet ‘genius’. Assuming that no word in this paragraph has been used lightly, especially the words ‘responsibility’ and ‘genius’. Of course, Chomsky’s is just a reference. Even if there had been no Chomsky, there would still be the idea of a ‘responsible genius’.
Note that what I said was ‘Z was the work of a responsible genius’, not that Costa Gavras is a responsible genius. He may be, but I don’t know much about him. What I do know is that both of his movies that I have seen are the works of a responsible genius. It is amazing how difficult it can be to understand (stock phrase!) the subtle differences in meaning due to slightly different phrasing. It’s not so easy to really learn to read. From my experience I have found that most people are bad readers, including those who are supposed to be scholars and intellectuals. I find that out again and again now that I am into research. Sometimes, from the reviews that I get for my papers, it’s hard to believe how badly the reviewers read. Reading is not about understanding syntax or even semantics. Reading is about understanding the meaning, including the fact that there can ambiguities and multiple interpretations, many of them intended by the writer. Good reading, like good everything, requires sincerity.
Back to business. You may find it interesting to know that Costa Gavras is the man who refused to direct Godfather (at least that’s what I have read) because he wanted to make modifications in the script, which was not acceptable to the producers. His argument was that the script, as it was, glorified mafia. And he was offered Godfather because Z was actually quite successful commercially, even though (like Missing) it was an overtly political movie.
Both the movies are based on true events, and Missing much more so. In Z, we are shown how a judge (in Greece, with powers very different from that of a judge in India), who is a very normal non-radical person just trying to fulfill his responsibilities sincerely. And just in doing his work as he is supposed to (in theory), he brings down the government whose high ranking officials (including generals) have been involved in the assassination of a popular (really) democratic leader.
In a format which is almost that of a commercial thriller, we are shown how almost everyone in power is either involved in the assassination or in the cover up. In the process, we also get to see how fascism works at the ground level. This should not be unfamiliar to Indians, or to any other people for that matter, but it still needs to be shown effectively because no people are ready to see (and accept that they see) the true ugly face of fascism among them, until it reaches the Holocaust or pogrom level and at least thousands of people are very visibly killed and brutalized. If then.
So, Z doesn’t show anything very new. Nor does it boast of fancy, brand new stylistic effects. That’s why a lot of people don’t even notice that it is an artistic movie. Nor is it so easy to dismiss it as the work a loony-toony leftist.
But the movie doesn’t leave much scope for denial, provided you at least see it. And are prepared to see what it shows. At the same time, it is entertaining too. Without making many compromises or diluting the commitment. This is not so easy to achieve.
More to come. Next time about Missing.