COSTA-GAVRAS, THE CINEMATOGRAPHIC RHYTHM OF POLITICS
An old metaphor helps us differentiate between two concepts. Commitment and involvement are not exactly the same: in a plate of bacon and eggs, the hen is committed, the pork involved. Costa-Gavras’ cinema (Loutra-Iraias, 1933) goes beyond commitment, it tells us about a filmmaker that is involved with society through his work. Costa-Gavras has been creating metaphors on screen for over 50 years and defending the cinematographic spectacle. This filmmaker, European by vocation, answers to the ‘charges’ of political director quoting Roland Barthes, to say that all films are political, that every film is likely to be analysed politically and that the political gaze is also in his spectators.
Though we cannot disregard incursions in sentimental or family dramas, it is true that an overview to the themes developed in his filmography takes us to some of the great historical and political themes of much of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty first, with a will to cross borders without complexes; the French Resistance, the military coup of the colonels in Greece, the Stalinist purges in Czechoslovakia, the US imperialism in Latin America, Vichy’s collaborationist government during World War II, Pinochet’s dictatorship brutalities, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fascist living prints of US contemporary society, the fall of The Wall of Berlin, the infinite evil power of media, the unemployment dramas, the often tragic immigration adventure or the obscenity of capitalism… But Costa-Gavras is not just a cinematographic giant for dealing with these themes, but for extending his involvement, through his personal sense of rhythm, to the construction of the film account. His extraordinary pulse as a director is evident from his first work Compartiments tuers (The Sleeping Car Murders, 1965) and, at the time reviled and today highly acclaimed Un homme de trop (Shock Troops, 1967). Further evidence of his love for cinema is his volunteer work as chairman of the French Film Library, exemplary institution dedicated to the preservation and diffusion of this 120-year-old art.
Costa-Gavras comes now to Huesca and whenever he hears Spanish –language in which he is proficient- he will surely remember his friend Jorge Semprún, whom he met at Yves Montand and Simone Signoret’s house, what it was for him like falling into the pot of wisdom… and of ethics. He wrote with him three films based on true events they dealt with through metaphors that helped them synthesize. Unfortunately, the death of the author of El largo viaje will prevent us from watching the old film project they had on the Spanish Civil War through the figure of André Malraux and his unforgettable Espoir, Sierra de Teruel (1939). Semprún said he owe Costa-Gavras ‘some of the moments of greatest thrill of a life not at all deprived of them’.
Maybe the struggle between power and resistance is the most important theme crossing the master Costa-Gavras’s filmography. The different exercises of power of that vast pyramid every society is, end up generating their own resistances. This film approach directs us more to the interest on ‘the political’ than ‘in politics’, usually very different concepts. The films of the Greek-French director have been for over fifty years one of the best examples of the extraordinary revealing and critical role of cinema for the spectators.
Basque Film Library Director
Member of the Direction and Selection Committee of San Sebastián Festival