Mill Valley Film Festival Report: Costa-Gavras Tribute

Greek/French filmmaker Costa-Gavras has been making slick, exciting political films since the 1960s. His works have attacked Fascism, Communism, American foreign policy, and a Pope. Friday night, he stepped up onto the stage at the Rafael‘s downstairs auditorium to discuss his career and screen his latest film.

But he didn’t step up on time. The Mill Valley Film Festival event honoring him started 20 minutes late. A festival representative told us that they were "waiting for talent to arrive." I’m not sure if the tardy talent was Costa-Gavras, or the program’s moderator, actor Peter Coyote.

But once they were both onstage, all was forgiven.

imageCoyote started by asking the Greek-born director about his family history and how that effected his world view. His father resisted during the German occupation, but he hated the Greek king almost as much as the Nazis. This got him, and his family, into trouble. "He lost his job, and his son couldn’t go to the university for years. I needed a certificate that my parents weren’t Communist or left…The King’s family was a half-Nazi family."

Not surprisingly, most of the talk was about politics, and about the problems of financing political films. "I made movies to teach people."

Costa-Gavras is a leftist, but he made it clear that he’s open-minded. "There are good people everywhere. And there are bad people on the left as well as the right."

imageThey talked quite a bit about his first American film, Missing. He was given the book, and an existing script which he didn’t like. He told Universal Studios that "I would like to do the book, but only the last seven pages when the father is looking for his son."

Contrary to what we expect, Universal didn’t pressure him to tone down the film. They were, however, reluctant to cast Jack Lemmon in the lead, because it wasn’t a comedy. Both Costa-Gavras and Universal were sued for defamation by people the film criticized. "We won. We also won the Oscar for best screenplay."

After talking about some of his other works, they introduced the evening’s feature–his latest film, Capital. "I hope the audience will be disturbed. I hope you will be disturbed."

I’m giving Capital an A-.

Gad Elmaleh stars as Marc Tourneuil, a young bank officer who by a stroke of luck becomes CEO of one of the largest banks in Europe. Soon, an American hedge fund wants to do business with him. Or maybe the hedge fund wants to take over his business and destroy him. Early on, Marc shows some signs of scruples,but he’s soon playing the Americans’ games, laying off thousands of people in order to improve the company’s stock price. He’s definitely Capital’s protagonist, but I’d be hard put to call him the hero, since he spends so much time acting like a villain. Much of the film’s financial talk went over my head, but the human factors driving and being driven by the high-stakes poker game were all I needed to enjoy Capital.

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Friday’s screening was the Bay Area’s premiere. The film will open in theaters in early November.

After the screening, Costa-Gavras and Coyote returned to the stage to discuss the film:

  • How did he research Capital? "First, from the book. But I had to go myself to do a lot of research. I thought the book was very outrageous [in how much money these people made]. But I talked to a bank executive and he said that the numbers were too low."
  • "I wanted to make movie about how money effects us."
  • On the differences between European and  American banking: "There are no regulations here. The system is completely free. There are more regulations in France, but there are less of them then there used to be. In all democracies, power is now with the people who have the money."

In the last part of the evening, Costa Gavras took questions from the audience.

  • On the overwhelming presence of technology in the film: It’s "reality. They live in a world where they talk to each other with new technology. It’s everywhere."
  • "Cinema can change society. We don’t work for the government, we make movies with our thinking, our questioning. Cinema can be free. Much freer than television." (Personally, I don’t agree with that statement. A TV show like The Wire could only have been made with a great deal of freedom.)
  • Are Euopean banks really that different? That pure? "They used to be a little better. The problem is that there is no global regulation. If it’s not global, it’s a mess."