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.
With Z (1969), Costa-Gavras created a nationalist response to the decade-long political abuses in Greece. Thematically, Z concerns conflicting tenets about left-wing and right-wing nationalism and their struggles for political dominance in Greece during the 1960s. The film also alludes to nationalistic upheavals and assassinations occurring in the contemporary Cold War world of the 1960s. Z, an adaptation of Vassilis Vassilikos’s 1966 novel, recounts the political assassination of leftist activist Deputy Grigoris Lambrakis after giving an anti-American, anti-nuclear speech in Saloniki (Thessaloniki) on 22 May 1963. In 1967, two years before the filming of Z, a far-right military junta, the Colonels’ Coup, took over the reins of government and imposed draconian restrictions on the press and individual liberties in Greece. The epilogue to Z presents some of the more absurd restrictions of the junta, and that epilogue serves as a coda to the Lambrakis assassination. In addition to recasting the political tale of Lambrakis’s political murder, its subsequent intense investigation, and the Colonels’ coup d’état, Costa-Gavras’s Z recounts the rise of nationalism and, ironically, feels the effects of industry nationalism associated with the film’s production and distribution. In that sense, Z itself became caught up in the ever-present intrigue of conflicting nationalist ideology and practices.
While the primary subject of Paul Verhoven’s Elle (2016) remains an examination of rape, the film places rape within a dark satire of contemporary French bourgeois life: the technological usurpation of emotions and sexuality; the uncertain future of a new generation of slacker male children; the shallowness of casual marital infidelity; and even the comically violent frustrations over the lack of parking in Paris. Elle especially addresses rape in contrast to a current culture of unquestioned feminist assumptions. Indeed, Elle provokes feminist paradigms that have foregrounded much of the discussion of gender and sexuality in both literary and film studies. Elle takes the subject of rape and radically alters conventional, popular, and academic assumptions about woman’s agency, undercutting as it critiques the several waves of feminism. In doing so, Elle eschews and at times mocks feminist grand narratives of oppressive patriarchy and pervasive misogyny with their repeated subtext of women trapped within a dominant rape culture. Instead, Elle formulates a satiric counter-narrative that affirms female agency and examines the ambiguities of feminine desire. Elle problematizes feminist polemics against the voyeurism and scopophilia of cinematic portrayals of rape and their reducing of woman to a victim status under the domination of the male gaze. In doing so, Elle does not dismiss feminism outrightly, but rather adapts a new text that does not need to be faithful to that original theoretical text. Based upon Philippe Djian’s novel ‘Oh …’, Elle also calls into question the process of adaptation, which for Elle involves movement not only between literary and cinematic forms, but also among transmedial forms of computers, video games, and messaging systems. The subject of these intertextual forms of adaptation always remains rape and its consequences. These provocations reveal how Elle admirably, if quite disturbingly, plays with conventions of contemporary femininity by taking the emotionally and politically fraught subject of violent sexual assault and rendering it graphically and satirically. Elle, then, serves an outré, contemporary model for the process of adaptation.
French literature on screen is a multi-author volume whose eleven chapters plus an introduction offer case histories of the screen versions of major literary works by such authors as Victor Hugo, Marcel Proust, Françoise Sagan, and George Simenon. Written by leading experts in the field, the various chapters in this volume offer insightful investigations of the artistic, cultural, and industrial processes that have made screen versions of French literary classics a central element of the national cinema. French literature on screen breaks new scholarly ground by offering the first trans-national account of this important cultural development. These film adaptations have been important in both the American and British cinemas as well. English language screen adaptations of French literature evince the complexity of the relationship between the two texts, the two media, as well as opening up new avenues to explore studio decisions to contract and distribute this particular type of ‘foreign’ cinema to American and British audiences. In many respects, the ‘foreign’ quality of master works of the French literary canon remain their appeal over the decades from the silent era to the present. The essays in this volume also address theoretical concerns about the interdependent relationship between literary and film texts; the status of the ‘author’, and the process of interpretation will be addressed in these essays, as will dialogical, intertextual, and transtextual approaches to adaptation.
This chapter surveys the general history of the adaptation of French literary texts by filmmakers working within the French, British, and American national cinemas, beginning with the silent cinema. Periods covered include the early sound era, the French New Wave, classic Hollywood, and the British heritage cycle.