Childhood & Early Life
Costa-Gavras was born as Konstantinos Gavras on 12 February 1933, in Loutra Iraias, then a village in the Peloponnese region of southern Greece, to Russian-born father and Greek mother. Senior Gavras, a tax official at Athens, was an anti-royalist and took part in the left wing resistance movement during the Nazi occupation.
After the war, as Greece came under the influence of the Western powers, he was marked as a communist. Later in 1949, with the defeat of the communists in the civil war, he not only lost his job, but was also jailed.
As a result of this, their economic condition deteriorated to such an extent that his mother started cleaning houses. Moreover, the arrest also meant that Costa Gavras would not get admission into any university in Greece.
Therefore, he decided to go abroad and to save money he began to take up odd jobs, which enabled him to have a glimpse into a society that he would not have otherwise known. For some days, he also danced in a Greek opera house, an experience which later came handy.
Initially, Gavras wanted to study film-making in the United States; but because of his father’s political background, he was denied a visa. So in 1951, he moved to Paris, where he enrolled at the University of Paris (Sorbonne).
Later in 1956, he entered L'Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC; the Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies), where he studied film making. On passing out from there, he began apprenticing under renowned film makers like Yves Allégret, René Clair, René Clément, and Jacques Demy.
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In 1965, Costa Gavras made his directorial debut with a murder mystery film, titled ‘Compartiment tueurs’ (The Sleeping Car Murders). It was based on Sébastien Japrisot’s eponymous novel. The movie did reasonably well at the box office.
His next film, ‘Un homme de trop’ (Shock Troops) was based on the World War II. Released 5 April 1967, it is set in Central France and tells the story of French resistance. The film gained entry into the 5th Moscow International Film Festival, held at Moscow between 5 July and 10 July of the same year.
In 1969, his film ‘Z’ was released. It is an Algerian-French political thriller, based on the 1966 novel by Vassilis Vassilikos and presents fictionalized version of Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis’s assassination and the military dictatorship that ruled the country at that time. Critics consider this movie as his finest work.
Next he made ‘L'aveu’ (The Confession). Released in April 1970, the film is based on the real-life story of the Czechoslovak communist leader, Artur London, who became a defendant in the Slánský trial and went through unbelievable torture at the hand of totalitarian leadership.
’État de siège’ (State of Siege), released in 1972, is another of his popular works. Many critics consider this to be his finest work after his 1969 film ‘Z’. The story is a fictionalized version of an authentic event in 1970 when U.S. Embassy official Dan Mitrione was kidnapped and killed in Uruguay. It ruffled many a feathers in the US.
His next film ‘Section spéciale’ (Special Section) was another of his prize winning works. Released in 1975, the story is based on a book by Hervé Villeré and is set in Vichy France during German occupation.
Thereafter, Gavras tried his hand in acting and enacted the character of Ramon in ‘Madam Rosa’, a 1977 film by Moshé Mizrahi. However, he soon went back to direction and in 1979, released his seventh film, ‘Clair de femme’.
His next movie ‘Missing’ was released in 1982. It is set in the period following American journalist Charles Horman's disappearance in Chili and opens with Gavras’ statement that the events of the film are true. Like ’État de Siège’, it also created a lot of controversy.
Following a lawsuit filed against Costa-Gavras and the distribution company for defamation, the movie ‘Missing’ had to be removed from the United States market. It could be released in the U.S. in 2006 after they won the case. During Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, it was also banned in Chili.
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In his next movie ‘Hanna K’ (1983), he tried to depict Israel-Palestine conflict from a neutral angle. While the protagonist is a Holocaust survivor residing in Israel, he also tried to bring out the story of the Palestinians, who lost their land and home. Unfortunately, the film made the Israel lobby uncomfortable and they made sure that the film did not run in the US.
While ‘Missing’ was made in English and Spanish, ‘Hanna K’ was made entirely in English. Thereafter, he made a French comedy film titled ‘Conseil de famille’ in 1986.
His next two films, ‘Betrayed’ (1988) and ‘Music Box’ (1989) were made in English. While the former was on the rise of a white-supremacist group in the U.S. the latter was about the trial of a Hungarian-American immigrant, accused of being a war criminal.
Subsequently, he made ‘The Little Apocalypse’ (1993), ‘Mad City’ (1997), ‘Amen’ (2002), ‘Le coupere’ (2005) and ‘Eden in the West’ (2009). While none of them did very well at the box office, ‘Mad City’ was a huge flop.
Made with a budget of $50 million, ‘Mad City’ earned only $10.5 million at the box office. However, ‘Le coupere’ and ‘Eden in the West’ were well received by the critics.
Gavras’ last film, ‘Le Capital’, opened at 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. Made in French, it talks about power struggle in international finance. Later it was shown at various other film festivals and was nominated for various prizes, but failed to win any.
Awards & Achievements
Gavras received many awards for his film ‘Z’. Among them, Canes Jury Prize (1969), New York Film Critics Circle Award (1969), Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (1970), Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film (1970) were most significant.
For ‘Missing’ too he received number of awards; most significant of them were: Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, Academy Award for Best Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, 1983), and the BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay (1983).
He also received BAFTA Awards for ‘State of Siege’ (1974) and Golden Bear Award for ‘Music Box’ (1990).
In 2013, he has received an honorary doctorate from the Film School of the Aristotle University.