An epitome when it comes to imbuing thrill in political stories, Costa Gavras graced the 15th Mumbai Film Festival, last week in all his affability and augustness. Be it the legendary films Z, Missing or many others from his 20-something pantheon of great cinema, Gavras has always inspired his audiences and critics alike, to understand characters and the system in all their complexity.
The marriage of the two, a gripping visual narrative that keeps you hooked till the end and a sincere engagement with polities ranging from Greece to Chile in Gavras’ head was his way of life. The 80-year-old veteran filmmaker was compelled to migrate to France in the 1950s, as the oppressive regime in his homeland Greece was responsible for the imprisonment of his father on the suspicion of being a communist. The emigrant status imprinted Gavras’ life with bearings that affect all his films.
Recreating his memory of the first film he had ever seen, Gavras with his smiling eyes, shares, “I remember the first film that I had seen. It was Greed, by Erich von Stroheim. It was a huge movie, almost three-hours’-long and very dark. The film amazed me, as it was a discovery.” The expatriation from Greece to Gare de Lyon impacted Gavras’ viewing of cinema forever, “There was a lot of censorship in Greece and until then, I had only seen action movies and happy movies. Yet, when I set foot in France, I discovered there were other kinds of movies, serious movies,” recalls Gavras speaking of the shift wherein his appreciation for good cinema had eventually been a transition from entertainers.
He also owes a wider perspective, as he was able to apprentice under stalwarts of silent cinema such as Yves Allégret and from thereon assist new wave “young” directors like Jean Giono and Rene Clair. Gavras’ calls this phase of his life as a “big lesson”. We ask him about his repeated accolades at festivals for his immeasurable contribution, and how he perceives this Lifetime Achievement Award: “Awards are a big honour. They give you the will to continue because of course you have a bunch of young people coming up (as we were) and pushing the old people out. It’s their turn. Awards are very important when they don’t happen and when they do, you don’t like to think about them anymore.”
He is more elated to be spending more time to discover the “dynamic” city — Mumbai. With a longlist tucked in his pockets, he tells us that he intends to buy: English Vinglish for its theme. Punctuated with a chuckle, he remarks that it is a political film, too. His definition of one, we ask. “While watching cinema I discovered that certain kinds of subjects were treated in a very smooth way. With Z I tried to deal with the topic in a direct way and treated it like a documentary.” Elaborating further, he dispels the common meaning of politics, “For me, politics is in life; how every day the way you treat other people, the way use the power that you have. Everything is personal finally. Politics comes from the Greek ‘polis’, which means town.”
Continuing about his Indian rendezvous, he says, “I discovered this time that I had a simplistic opinion. There are classical directors like Satyajit Ray, who was the king when young. Yet, Indians have the capacity to do big shows with big choreography. I don’t believe even Americans can do something like that.”