Costa-Gavras prefers Bollywood fantasy to American action

October 21, 2013

Filmmaker Costa-Gavras, best known for the 1969 political thriller “Z“, has documented prickly themes such as dictatorship, dissent and oppression over the past half-century.

“Z”, which won the Oscar for best foreign film, was a fictionalized account of the assassination of Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis and inspired the 2012 Bollywood film “Shanghai“.

The French director of Greek descent made several critically acclaimed films, including the 1982 American drama “Missing” which won him an Oscar for best adapted screenplay.

Costa-Gavras, 80, received a lifetime achievement award at the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival and spoke to Reuters about cinema, what he thinks of Bollywood and why he cannot stand American action thrillers. Edited excerpts from the interview.

Your film “Z” was the inspiration for India’s “Shanghai”. Does your cinema have global resonance and global themes?
Yes, I heard about it. The story of “Z”, apart from being a Greek story, was about non-democratic power, usually the police and the army. And you always have people resisting against this. It was the same with “Capital“. You have people speculating with banks and doing negative things in society. The banks are legal, what they are doing is legal, but they decide what to do — it is a kind of dictatorship. It is a legal dictatorship.

When you make films, do you look at the local context or the global one?
Sometimes, I’ll think of it. For example, in “Z”, I didn’t use names for people. I identified them through their functions. Like the captain, the lawyer, the judge. The people in “Capital” are everywhere — they could be anyone.

Your latest film talks about money. Is money the new politics?
Money is the new power and it is stronger than the elected power, by the one elected by the people. We say we live in a democracy, but that democracy obeys the bankers. And bankers obey big money. We need them, but even when (they) do huge speculations, we accept it. They all make speeches — President Obama, for example. They say we need to change. We need to change, but they don’t change. (Laughs)

Do you think enough filmmakers are talking about these subjects?
I don’t know. Everyone is free to do what they want. Essentially, cinema is to speak about society, how humans live, how they suffer, whether they are happy or not. We are not making political speeches, we are making a show. We want the audience to laugh, cry, hate. Hate is good sometimes. It is necessary to hate that there is injustice, or that people are starving, and so forth. With these feelings, the audience can perhaps do something. Or do nothing. They can go home and forget about it. But hopefully, some people will talk about it, and that is the success of films.

Do you think films like yours, that talk of dissent and dictatorship, can help bring about change? Have you experienced that?
All art, in a certain way, is there to make people feel, and then think. It is important for human beings to think. And by thinking, to create a better society. Art is also there to create a revolution. I am not talking about a violent revolution, but to think about what we can do in a particular situation. And cinema is the most popular of the arts and the one that travels fastest. So yes, it is important.

What is the one thing you try to say through cinema?
To show particularly how human beings live, how they suffer, or they are happy or miserable and why they are that way. Also, my main theme is how to resist. I don’t mean (that) to resist is to go down the streets with a gun. No, every moment anyone says anything unjust, you resist, you say this isn’t right. It is the small things.

You are 80. Where do you get the energy to make films at this age?
Energy is found in passion. When anyone asks me about my career, I say no, we don’t make a career. Politicians make a career; we make movies. Of course, we make a movie, it is a failure and another one, and that one fails too, we have to disappear. So the answer, which is not really an answer, is that it is passion that gives me energy.

What do you think of Indian cinema and Bollywood in particular? Have you seen any Indian movies?
Oh yes. Last year, in Cannes, there was a retrospective of 100 years of Indian cinema, so I saw a few of them. And of course, I have always watched the movies of Satyajit Ray. I like very much the fantasy movies you have. You are the only ones making it with so much kindness, humour, and also love. I have seen a Kara Zahir movie — is that the right name? I saw his movie with young people, fantasy, and that was good.

Do you mean Karan Johar?
Oh yes. Karan Johar. We pronounce it the French way. The only movies I don’t like too much, to tell you the truth, are the one that the Americans make — the action movies. Those movies are completely ridiculous. People who are fighting, destroying cars, and blowing things up. They don’t say anything. Nothing. It is like a football game, you know. It is there for a moment, and then, nothing. But they are free to make them, and they probably make a lot of money. Also, they show them all over, in many theatres, and little by little, audiences are used to it, and that is why they go to see them. If they are used to something else, they will go see that too.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan; Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay and Tony @tonytharakan. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)


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By American films he means what? Pacific Rim? Directed by a Mexican, starring a Brit with Arab money. Or maybe, World War Z directed by a German, starring an American made with Asian money? Or perhaps, Elsium starring an American, with a South African director and made with Japanese money? I am tired of the word “American” applied to every cultural product people dont like when most of these abominations are actually be made elsewhere, normally not by Americans and financed globally. Are we to blame for the globalization of the film industry?

Also, I actually think Mr. Costa-Gavras is living in the past. Hollywood movies that make money have a lot more empathy than he’s giving them credit for. Look at the Top 10 “American-style” movies this year, Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, Man of Steel, Monsters University, Fast & Furious 6, Oz The Great and Powerful, Star Trek Into Darkness. World War Z, The Croods, and Gravity. In my opinion, only 2 of those can be lumped in as mindless shoot’em ups he despises. Now let’s look at what’s popular in the Indian film market he loves so much, Chennai Express, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Grand Masti, Race 2, Aashiqui 2, Special Chabbis, Satyagraha, Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai Dobaara!, and Raanjhanaa. Half of those are semi-OK rom/coms, he’d never even watch, 2 are direct lifts from Western movies and the rest are capers or shoot’em ups with an Indian twist.

Here is the thing about Mr. Costa-Gavras. He actually knows very little about the majority of movies being made in India. He only knows about the whimsical hits that cross-over and make it to France and he knows he hates “America,” so he just lumps everything in as “american” as a matter of course, without context, reality needn’t interfere. In other words he’s no better than Fox News.

Posted by dustinjohnson | Report as abusive

lets welcome costa-garvas to bollywood and tollywood,so that he’l come to know about all films in indian film industry…

Posted by zingreel | Report as abusive

lets welcome costa garvas to indian film industry…….

Posted by zingreel | Report as abusive