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Costa-Gavras, (short for Constantinos Gavras or Κωνσταντίνος Γαβράς; born 12 February 1933) is a Greek filmmaker, who lives and works in France, 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

Gavras was born in 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. His father's political blacklisting not only barred him from Greek university, but, in the McCarthyite 50s, denied Gavras a visa for US film school.[2]


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.[3]

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, filmmaker Penelope Spheeris, and musician Chris Spheeris.[4] His daughter Julie Gavras and his son Romain Gavras are also filmmakers.

Costa Gavras was interviewed extensively by The Times cultural correspondent Melinda Camber Porter and was featured prominently in her book, Through Parisian Eyes: Reflections on Contemporary French Arts and Culture (1993, Da Capo Press).

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.

Gavras and co-writer Jorge Semprún won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best 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 a 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 and the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

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. The film won the Golden Bear at the 40th Berlin International Film Festival.[5]

La Petite Apocalypse (1993) was entered into the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival.[6]

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. This view completely conceals Pope Pius XII's 1942 Christmas address. 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. In most cases, the targets of Gavras's work have been right-of-center movements and regimes, including Greek conservatives in and out of the military in Z, and 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.

Form and style
Photograph of a movie poster.
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".

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.

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.

Photograph of the head and upper body of a smiling man looking well to the left of the camera. He is wearing a collared shirt and a pullover sweater underneath a jacket. He is apparently sitting, and well behind him there is a street with two cars visible.
Costa-Gavras, April 2008, during filming Eden à l'Ouest

The Sleeping Car Murders (Compartiment Tueurs) (1965)
Shock Troops (Un homme de trop) (1967)
Z (1969)
L'Aveu (The Confession) (1970)
State of Siege (Etat de Siege) (1972)
Section spéciale (Special Section) (1975)
Clair de femme (1979)
Missing (1982)
Hanna K. (1983)
Betrayed (1988)
Music Box (1989)
La Petite Apocalypse (1993)
Lumiere & Company (1995)
Mad City (1997)
Amen. (2003)
Le Couperet (2005)
Eyewitness (TBA)
No Other Life (TBA)
Eden in West (2009)


^ Costa-Gavras at the Internet Movie Database
^ Interview by Maya Jaggi. "Interview: Costa Gavras". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-10-28.
^ "Biographie et Filmographie de COSTA-GAVRAS - Ciné Passion". Cinemapassion.com. Retrieved 2011-10-28.
^ http://www.biographicon.com/view/9qzvs
^ "Berlinale: 1990 Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
^ "Berlinale: 1993 Programme". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2011-06-05.

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