Capitalizing: A conversation with filmmaker Costa-Gavras

While attending the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival Trevor Hogg met with Academy Award-winner Costa-Gavras to chat about Z, Missing, Music Box and Le Capital…

After graduating from French film school, the native of Arkadie, Greece decided to stay in France upon being offered a job; since then he has produced 26 movies starting with his 1965 feature debut called Compartiment Tueurs (The Sleeping Car Murders).  “It is not always easy particularly with the subjects I choose,” states Costa-Gavras while at the Toronto International Film Festival promoting Le Capital (Capital) which revolves around Marc Tourneuil (Gad Elmaleh), the newly appointed head of a French financial institution who attempts to out maneuver a takeover from an American hedge fund.  “The most difficult thing was to convince financiers that the movie was accurate because people could think it was an exaggeration.”  In order for villains to be believable they need to be treated in particular manner.   “The idea is to try to have a character who is not all dark or white.”  Gavras points out financiers are well educated and intelligent people who sometimes do positive and negative things with the international monetary power that they wield.  “Money is coming from and going to the banks; they are necessary, legal and can do anything they want.   Sometimes it’s very negative for democracy; this is the theme of the movie.”

“It’s a permanent collaboration,” chuckles Costa-Gavras when asked whether his screenwriting affects his directing and vice versa.  “The writer will tell the story with words; a director tells the story with images so the thing is to find the balance between both.”  Getting the script right is crucial.  “The first editing of a movie starts with your writing, then comes the shooting and the definitive editing.  If you don’t have an editing of the script then you don’t know where to go.”  The subject matter is another key element.  “The essential thing for me is to tell a story which touches me profoundly because I live with it for one or two years.”  The political thriller about an investigator who uncovers a conspiracy surrounding the assassination of a leftist politician led to global recognition for the filmmaker who received Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.  “When we did Z [1969], at first nobody was willing to give money to make the movie because they thought who would care about this story.  We did it anyway.   We were surprised by its success.”  Gavras reflects, “Those are the miracles that sometime happen with the cinema.”

The veteran writer-director won an Academy Award for co-writing the screenplay for Missing (1982) which features Jack Lemmon in an Oscar-nominated performance as a businessman searching for his son in Chile while a military coup unfolds.  “Gad Elmaleh is also a comedian,” states Costa-Gavras when comparing his current leading man with Lemmon who is famous for comedic roles such as in Some Like It Hot (1959).  “Comedians sometimes if they accept to do something dramatic can be great.  They have different rhythms [from other actors].  It becomes a passion for them if they accept it.”  Jessica Lange thrived under the direction of the moviemaker as she received an Academy Award nomination for Music Box (1989) where she plays a lawyer defending her father who has been accused of being a war criminal.  “For all of us, a father is a hero; he’s the best man in the world, especially, when we’re young.  But we never ask the questions, ‘Who was he?  What did he do?’  That’s the whole idea.  When you know what your father was what do you do with that?”  When asked as to how he has been able to survive in the turbulent film industry for six decades, Gavras answers, “I like to make movies and will try to make them to the end.”

Many thanks to Costa-Gavras for taking the time for this interview.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.

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