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Costa Gavras

Costa (Constantino) Gavras is a Greek-born naturalized French filmmaker who lives and works in France.  Costa-Gavras is known for merging controversial political issues with the entertainment value of commercial cinema.  Through his movies Costa Gavras has brought attention to international issues of law and justice, oppression, and state perpetrated violence using the tradition of cinematic story-telling.  He is best known for films with overt political themes, most famously the fast-paced thrillers Missing (1982), State of Seige (1972) and Z (1969).

“Missing”, based on the book The Execution of Charles Horman by Thomas Hauser, is about American journalist Charles Horman (payed by John Shea) who disappeared a few days after the September 11, 1973 US-supported military coup led by General Augusto.  Horman’s wife Joyce (played by Sissy Spacek) and father  (played by Jack Lemmon) search for him in Santiago and ultimately discover that Horman had been arrested by Chilean soldiers and taken to the National Stadium where he was imprisoned  and later executed.   “Missing” won an Oscar for Best Screenplay Adaptation and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Gavras’ “State of Siege” takes place in military-ruled Uruguay in the early 1970.  In a plot loosely based on the case of US police official and alleged torture expert Dan Mitrione, a US embassy official (played by Yves Montand) is kidnapped by the Tupamaros, a leftist urban guerrilla group, whose members interrogate him in order to reveal the details of secret US support for repressive regimes in Latin America.

“Z” is probably Gavras’ most well-known work and is an account of the undermining of the democratic government in Greece in the 1960s.  The mystery-thriller format transforms the uncomfortable history into a fast-paced story in which the investigating judge (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant) tries to uncover the murder of a prominent leftist politician (played by Yves Montand), while government officials and the military attempt to cover up their roles in the crime.  The film is a fictionalized account of the events surrounding the 1963 assassination of Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis.  It had special resonance because at the time of its release, Greece had been ruled by the military for two years.  “Z” won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film that year.

Costa Gavras was born in Loutra Iraias, Arcadia.  His family spent World War II in a village in the Peloponnese and moved to Athens after the war.  His father had been a member of the leftist EAM branch of the Greek Resistance during the war and was imprisoned after the war as a suspected communist.  His father’s blacklisting barred Costa Gavras from attending Greek university, and a request for a US visa to attend film school in the US was denied in the McCarthyite 1950s.

Other Costa Gavras movies include “Special Section” (1975), “Betrayed” (1988), “Music Box” (1989)—which won the Golden Bear Award at the 40th Berlin International Film Festival—“La Petite Apocalypse” (1993), “Mad City” (1997), “Eden is West” (2009), and “Le Capital” (2012).  Costa Gavras received the Magritte Honorary Award at the 3rd Magritte Awards (2013).


Return to Tribute to Justice: Remembering 40 years September 9th 2013.