Costa-Gavras, a French filmmaker of Greek origin, will receive the second Donostia Award at the 67th edition of the San Sebastian Festival which, with this distinction, applauds the militant cinema of the author of movies including Z, Missing and Capital, with which he competed for the Golden Shell in 2012.
The filmmaker will collect the award on September 21 at a gala in the Victoria Eugenia, venue for the special screening of his latest feature film, Adults in the Room, adaptation of the memoirs of the former Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis.
The film, which will have its world premiere at the Venice Mostra, is based on the book Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment. It was published after Varoufakis’s brief mandate, having stayed in office for the first six months of 2015, at the height of Greek’s financial crisis. As indicated by the synopsis, the film is a “tragedy” in the classic sense and portrays a group of people “trapped in an inhuman network of power” and in the “brutal circle of the Eurogroup meetings, who impose on Greece the dictatorship of austerity”.
Featuring in the cast headed by Christos Loulis in the part of Varoufakis, are, among others, Alexandros Bourdoumis, who plays the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras; Ulrich Tukur, as the former German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble; Josiane Pinson, who embodies Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, and Valeria Golino, who figures as Danae Stratou, Varoufakis’s wife.
In Costa-Gavras’s own words “You never forget the country of your birth, especially when it is a country like Greece.” “I fled my country because, back then, all it offered to young people of my social class was a life of submission to a theocratic-democracy. As an immigrant, France allowed me to surpass my wildest dreams. My “Greekness” took hold of me again when the Colonels seized power. The expression of my personal resistance was Z. Ten years ago, the Greek crisis plunged the country back into the same situation that made me flee in the first place. And this, of course, made me want to express my revolt once again, with Adults in the Room”, says the president of the French Cinemathèque since 2007. In addition, he will receive the Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker 2019 award of the next Venice International Film Festival.
Costa-Gavras is one of the greatest exponents of political and social protest cinema in the last fifty years. A large part of the around twenty titles he has directed has served to poke a finger into different wounds, including dictatorships, political purges, racism and disastrous situations brought about by the financial world. But above all, the main theme running through the filmography of this French-Greek author is that of the person faced with the relentless machinery of an absolute and devastating political power.
Born in 1933 in Loutra-Iraias (Grecia) as Konstantinos Gavras, at the age of 22 he left the country of his birth to settle in Paris and study Literature at the Sorbonne. Having graduated from the Institute of Advanced Cinematographic Studies (IDHEC), he worked as an assistant director with eminent French filmmakers such as René Clair, René Clément, Henri Verneuil, Jacques Demy, Marcel Ophüls, Jean Giono and Jean Becker.
His feature film debut was Compartiment tueurs (The Sleeping Car Murders, 1965), a detective story starring two habitual actors in his early films, Yves Montand and Simone Signoret. Following Un homme de trop (Shock Troops, 1967), about a commando of French resistance fighters who realise that there may be a spy among them, came the first of several collaborations with Jorge Semprún as co-screenwriter: Z (1969), a political drama about the murder of a left-wing deputy, won the Special Jury Prize and the Best Actor award for Jean-Louis Trintignant at the Cannes Festival, as well as an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and another for Best Editing.
Other works from that time, mostly book adaptations, are L’aveu (The Confession, 1971), about the Stalinist purges in the Czechoslovakia of the 50s; État de siege (State of Siege, 1973), reconstruction of the kidnap and murder of a CIA agent by Uruguayan guerrilla fighters; Section Spéciale (Special Section, 1975), about a farcical trial in Nazi-occupied France which earned Costa-Gavras the Best Director award at Cannes, and Clair de femme (Womanlight, 1979), a love story starring Romy Schneider and Yves Montand.
Missing (1981), his first big hit filmed in English, opened the period in which the filmmaker started to alternate projects in France and the USA. This political thriller set in the period following the Chilean coup d’état won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Festival, which also gave an award to Jack Lemmon for his dramatic performance, as well as landing the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.
Two new French productions, Hanna K (1983) and Conseil de famille (Family Business, 1985), saw his return to Hollywood to direct two thrillers with screenplays by Joe Eszterhas: Debra Winger and Tom Berenger star in Betrayed (1987), a condemnation of the racism prevailing in the USA, while Music Box (1989), with Jessica Lange in the part of a lawyer who discover that her father was a Nazi criminal, won the Golden Bear in Berlin.
After La petite apocalypse (The Little Apocalypse,1993), an atypical foray into comedy by the filmmaker, he directed John Travolta and Dustin Hoffman in Mad City (1997), in which a security guard who has lost his job due to staff cutbacks takes a group of people hostage. In Amen (2001), with Ulrich Tukur and Mathieu Kassovitz, he condemned the Vatican’s silence during Nazism, and in Le couperet (The Axe, 2004) he adapted a novel by Donald Westlake about a senior executive who comes up with an expeditious plan after losing his job. Eden a l’Ouest (Eden is West, 2008), his penultimate work to date, is a drama about immigration, while Le capital(Capital, Official Selection, 2012), with Gad Elmaleh and Gabriel Byrne in the cast, is an acerbic satire on the outrages of the financial world.
ADULTS IN THE ROOM
COSTA – GAVRAS (FRANCE – GREECE)
Cast: Christos Loulis, Alexandros Bourdoumis, Valeria Golino, Ulrich Tukur, Josiane Pinson
Behind closed doors, a human tragedy plays out. A universal theme: a story of people trapped in an inhuman network of power. The brutal circle of the Eurogroup meetings, who impose on Greece the dictatorship of austerity, where humanity and compassion are utterly disregarded. A claustrophobic trap with no way out, exerting pressures on the protagonists which finally divide them. A tragedy in the ancient Greek sense: the characters are not good, or evil, but driven by the consequences of their own conception of what it is right to do. A tragedy for our very modern time.