Costa Gavras: Wikis


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Born Constantinos Gavras
13 February 1933 (1933-02-13) (age 76)
Loutra Iraias, Greece
Occupation film director and producer
Spouse(s) Michèle Ray-Gavras (?-?)

Constantinos Gavras (born 13 February 1933), better known as Costa-Gavras (Κώστας Γαβράς), is a Greek born French filmmaker, best known for films with overt political themes, most famously the fast-paced thriller, Z (1969). Most of his movies were made in French; starting with Missing (1982), several were made in English.[1]


Early life

Costa-Gavras was born to a poor family in the village of Loutra Iraias (Λουτρά Ηραίας), Arcadia. His family spent the Second World War in a village in the Peloponnese, and moved to Athens after the war. His father had been a member of the left-wing EAM branch of the Greek Resistance, and was imprisoned after the war as a suspected communist. His father's record made it impossible for him to attend university or emigrate to the United States, so after high school Costa-Gavras went to France, where he began his studies of law in 1951.


In 1956, he left his university studies to study film at the French national film school, IDHEC. After film school, he apprenticed under Yves Allégret, and became an assistant director for Jean Giono and René Clair. After several further positions as first assistant director, he directed his first feature film, Compartiment Tueurs, in 1965.[2]

Costa-Gavras was president of the Cinémathèque Française from 1982 to 1987, and again from 2007 to the present. He is a first cousin of recording artist Jimmie Spheeris and filmmaker Penelope Spheeris. His daughter Julie Gavras and his son Romain Gavras are both filmmakers.

Selected films

In Z (1969), an investigating judge, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, tries to uncover the truth about the murder of a prominent leftist politician, played by Yves Montand, while government officials and the military attempt to cover up their roles. The film is a fictionalized account of the events surrounding the assassination of Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. It had additional resonance because, at the time of its release, Greece had been ruled for two years by the "Regime of the Colonels". Z won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Costa Gavras and co-writer Jorge Semprún won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Foreign Film Screenplay.

L'Aveu (The Confession, direction, 1970) follows the path of Artur London, a Czechoslovakian communist minister falsely arrested and tried for treason and espionage in the Slánský 'show trial' in 1952.

State of Siege (1973) takes place in Uruguay under a conservative government in the early 1970s. In a plot loosely based on the case of US police official and alleged torture expert Dan Mitrione, an American embassy official (played by Yves Montand) is kidnapped by the Tupamaros, a radical leftist urban guerilla group, which interrogates him in order to reveal the details of secret US complicity with repressive regimes in Latin America.

Missing (1982) concerns an American journalist, Charles Horman, who disappeared in the bloody coup led by General Augusto Pinochet in Chile in 1973. Horman's father, played by Jack Lemmon, and wife, played by Sissy Spacek, search in vain to determine his fate. Nathaniel Davis, US ambassador to Chile from 1971-1973, a version of whose character had been portrayed in the movie (under a different name), filed an unsuccessful US$150 million libel suit, Davis v. Costa-Gavras, 619 F. Supp. 1372 (1985), against the studio and the director, which was eventually dismissed. The film won an Oscar for Best Screenplay Adaptation.

In Music Box (1989), a respected naturalized American citizen (played by Armin Mueller-Stahl) is accused of being a Nazi war criminal. The film is loosely based on the case of John Demjanjuk.

Amen. (2003), was based in part on the highly controversial 1963 play, Der Stellvertreter. Ein christliches Trauerspiel (The Deputy, a Christian Tragedy), by Rolf Hochhuth. The movie alleges that Pope Pius XII was aware of the plight of the Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, but failed to take public action to publicize or condemn the Holocaust. These issues have continued to be disputed, with the Vatican thus far declining to open to historians all of its archives relating to the extent of the Pope's knowledge during World War II.

Political-Commercial film

Costa Gavras is known for merging controversial political issues with the entertainment value of commercial cinema. Law and justice, oppression, legal/illegal violence, and torture are common subjects in his work, especially relevant to his earlier films. Costa Gavras is an expert of the “statement” picture.

Gavras has repeatedly explored political terrain. In most cases, the targets of his work have been right-of-center movements and regimes, including Greek conservatives in and out of the military in Z, and perceived authoritarian governments that ruled much of Latin America during the height of the Cold War, as in State of Siege and Missing.

In a broader sense, this emphasis continues with Amen. given its focus on the conservative leadership of the Catholic Church during the 1940s. In this political context, L'Aveu (The Confession) provides the exception, dealing as it does with oppression on the part of a Communist regime during the Stalinist period. The fact that L'Aveu was made shortly after the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia may appear relevant to the director's decision to tackle this issue at that particular time.

Form and style

Poster of the legendary movie Z by Costa Gavras, about the political assassination of Gregoris Lambrakis. "He is alive!" can be seen in the poster caption under the large Z, written in French, referring to the popular Greek protest slogan "Ζει" meaning "he (Lambrakis) lives".

A dark, threatening, and dramatic tone emerges from the work of Costa Gavras, as he focuses clearly on abuse of power, the dangers of centralized authority, and spies & investigators. His audience generally responds well to this since it makes for a great thriller or mystery, but have at times rejected or been appalled by his work due to its unforgiving content. His style is anything but subtle, although films such as Music Box and Mad City have displayed a significantly more mild approach. The former title, however, won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival, and the latter, despite re-inventing the work of Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951), still fit the bill of political-commercial cinema, taking on issues of journalism, ethics, and money all at once.

Through popular media, Costa Gavras has brought attention to international issues, some urgent, others merely problematic, and he has done this in the tradition of cinematic story-telling. Z (1969), easily his most famous work, is an account of the undermining in the 1960s of democratic government in Greece, his homeland and place of birth. The format, however, is a mystery-thriller combination that transforms an uncomfortable history into a riveting story. This is a clear example of how he pours politics into plot, bringing epic conflicts into the sort of personal conflicts we are accustomed to seeing on screen. Costa Gavras has attempted several genres, including murder mystery, war film, and straight-up political fiction films. In most cases these are carried through with a dark humor, a comic sense that has helped make issues of politics more bearable to masses of moviegoers and film critics alike.

Throughout his time, Costa Gavras has consistently brought in audiences and given attention to important aspects of the global political climate. This is in part because of his ability to channel a level of cultural awareness and concern, rather than picking plots purely of his own making. Still, if only from the list of his works, it becomes clear that he does in fact have a personal agenda, one which, due to the timing and audience of his films, has been met with much controversy (interestingly, there are very obvious ties between his own life experiences and the topics of choice). His accounts of corruption propagated, in their essence, by European and American powers (Z, State of Siege and Missing) highlight problems buried deep in the structures of these societies, problems which not everyone is comfortable addressing. The approach he adopted in L'Aveu also subtly invited the audience to a critical look focused on structural issues, delving this time into the opposite Communist bloc. The same is true for “Amen”, which threw the Roman Catholic Church back into a fire of speculation and criticism regarding their failure to publicize and condemn the Holocaust at the time it was underway. This sort of direct challenge makes Costa Gavras both disliked and loved, depending on where he chooses to side on an issue. This is a testament to his ability not only as a filmmaker but as an artist fully capable of producing a “statement” piece, even in today’s cinematic climate.


Costa-Gavras, April 2008, during filming Eden à l'Ouest


External links

Costa Gavras President of the Cinémathèque française

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