Costa-Gavras in Betrayed challenged and undermined that harmony by exposing the hold the ‘paranoid tradition’ has in America, which Richard Hofstadter had written about over two decades beforehand. Betrayed is deeply prophetic in that sense, then, and not only because it anticipated a series of films in the 1990s and 2000s – from American History X (1998) and Fight Club (1999) to The Believer (2001) and Imperium (2016) – that toyed with and/or explicitly conveyed angry white male/neo-Nazi/ supremacist imagery and ideology. This chapter traces the historical roots of Betrayed’s story and its director’s American career. In doing so, it argues for a film of contextual significance in a profoundly changing Hollywood landscape of the 1980s (cinematically and industrially), as well as Betrayed’s contemporary relevance for the issues of racism, extremism and political commentary at large, in society and on screen.
While he frequently locates political suspense narratives in family life, Costa-Gavras’s Conseil de Famille (1986) and La Petite Apocalypse (1993) show the comic side of the maxim that all politics are local and familial. The housebreaking duo in Conseil de Famille are blackmailed by the kids into adding them into the family business, while the haut-bourgeois couple in La Petite Apocalypse are burdened with a Marxist ex-spouse houseguest who won’t leave them and their pretensions alone. Few critics could conceive of Costa-Gavras as a humourist, and fewer still were able to see the comic potential of domestic stories about failed ideals.
This chapter examines Eden à l’Ouest (2009) within the context of recent European immigration cinema. Within this category, border-crossing films are those that focus on the migrants’ journeys, show the dark side of the European road, and illustrate how illegal border crossing has become a business for different parties that profit from the immigrants and their families. Eden à l’Ouest serves as an example of immigration cinema; as a hybrid film that draws inspiration from both literature and film and blurs the boundaries of different film genres (silent film, drama, comedy, road movie) and tones (comic and tragic).
In this collection of new essays, issues emerge that open up numerous innovative approaches to Costa-Gavras’s career, among them: contemporary theories of adaptation, identity politics, reception, and affect, as well as his assessment of twentieth- and twenty-first-century political disorder. Costa-Gavras recontextualizes political history as individual human dramas and thereby involves his audience in past and contemporary traumas, from the horrors of the Second World War through mid-century international totalitarianism to the current problems of immigration and the global financial crisis. In order to capture the feeling of a political era, Costa-Gavras employs cinematic techniques from La Nouvelle Vague for his early films, documentary-like re-enactments for crucial moments of political tension of his renowned thrillers, and state-of-the-art aesthetics and technology for his latest ventures. The first half of this collection focuses upon the first twenty years of Costa-Gavras’s career, especially his development of the political thriller, the second half of this collection explores the past thirty years of his very productive filmic, thematic, and genre experiments. Costa-Gavras remains one of film’s enduring storytellers, theorists, and political commentators.
Costa-Gavras and microhistoriography: the case of Amen. (2002)
Homer B. Pettey
Amen. serves as a relevant case in point that illustrates Costa-Gavras’s cinematic microhistoriography. Costa-Gavras relies upon the transmediation of Rolf Hochhuth’s play The Deputy (1963) to film narrative, with an intention not to film the play, but rather to present a microhistory of the Final Solution. Costa-Gavras desires another form of history: not institutional, not a grand narrative, but a history that comes about through visual enactment of personal reactions. This approach to Holocaust history does not provide a wide sweep of diaspora, migrations, or even colonization; instead, Amen. makes the social and religious the personal by concentrating on the movements and reactions of the two protagonists, a Protestant SS officer Kurt Gerstein (Ulrich Tukur) and an Italian Catholic priest, Riccardo Fontana (Mathieu Kassovitz). As with his other films, Costa-Gavras stands out as a cinematic historiographer, one whose emphasis lies more in creating narrative than in sustaining ideology.
Three films in particular, Mad City (1997), The Ax (2005), and Capital (2012), advocate for a more conscientious and sustainable form of capitalism than the one often practised. The director reveals with a piercing sympathy for those that suffer the results of corporate downsizing and relocation. The Ax provides an explicit, sustained, and nuanced attack on the shift from aggressive capitalism to predatory capitalism that turns society into either predator or prey. Taken together, one can see Costa-Gavras issuing a clear call through Mad City and The Ax for the very kinds of conscious capitalism found in today’s business circles. The films explicitly ask society to make ‘humans the center of everything’, as one of the characters in The Ax will propose as the solution to the unstable practices profit-driven capitalism performs to reward stockholders at the expense of stakeholders.
Music Box not only points to the regrettable fact that some of the European refugees admitted after the Second World War were among the ‘willing executioners’ of national socialism’s plan to remake the culture of the continent. It also provides the only cinematic treatment of the murder by Hungarian fascists who belong to the notorious Arrow Cross movement, of Budapest’s Jews – an episode of the Holocaust that had, before the release of this film, largely slipped from view. This chapter offers an in-depth discussion of the various historical events that are treated in the film and also formed the context of its reception. This is the ‘work’ of memorialization and illumination that Costa-Gavras intended his films to inspire.
The depiction of torture in Costa-Gavras’s The Confession (1970) reveals the brutal methods employed by the government during the 1951 Slánský trial, one of several show trials in Communist Czechoslovakia. The film straightforwardly argues that the government tortured the defendants in order to extract the confessions that they wanted, and it exposes the incredible violence of the interrogation methods. This film resolutely presents torture as a coercive and humiliating method that the Communists employed to force people into fake confessions. For Costa-Gavras, however, this depiction of torture leads to a revelation about the failings of the Communist Party and then more broadly leads to a larger argument about the moment at which political regimes as such fail.
Le Capital (2012), based on Stéphane Osmont’s 2004 novel, returns to Costa-Gavras’s problem of representing economic structures and determinants, while also repeatedly featuring thriller set-ups. However, it eschews the kinds of nail-biting perils one might expect of a corporate/financial thriller – for example, Syriana (Gaghan 2005) or The International (Tykwer 2009) – and its conspiracy turns out to be merely the mundane, everyday machinations of finance capital. At the same time, the film rejects the tendency of ‘crunch lit’ – semi-autobiographical and fully fictional narratives about the 2007–8 global financial crash – to humanise financial players. It does so not to demonise them but in order to foreground the subjectivity produced by neoliberalism. Although Le Capital’s denial of ‘constant excitation’ hardly constitutes the ‘dialectical distanciation’, it nonetheless plays a part in Costa-Gavras’s oblique solution to the problem of representing the economy.
Hanna K. (1983) and the Palestinian ‘permission to narrate’
Costa-Gavras’s Hanna K. explores the political predicament of Selim Bakri, a Palestinian accused of being a ‘terrorist infiltrator’ by the Israeli government. Selim demonstrates the burdens of what Edward Said called the Palestinian ‘permission to narrate’ – the difficulties of humanizing the Palestinian experience for Western audiences often enthralled by Israeli heroism in the wake of the Holocaust. From the opening scene of the film, Costa-Gavras focuses upon the existential condition under which Palestinians live within a Jewish state. Costa-Gavras deploys editing and dialogue techniques to emphasize the difficulties attending the Palestinian’s quest to gain the ‘permission to narrate’. Costa-Gavras captures the predicament of the Palestinian seeking to stop asking for the permission to narrate.