An interview with Costa-Gavras, film-maker.
Costa-Gavras, the 80-year-old filmmaker who grew up in Greece and has lived in France for most of his life, may not be fluent in English but is articulate to the point when it comes to his craft and his philosophy. While in Mumbai to receive the International Lifetime Achievement Award at the 15th Mumbai Film Festival (October 17-24), where several of his influential films were screened, he sat down for an interview with Sudhish Kamath and spoke on cinema and politics. Excerpts:
Congratulations on the award. How do you, as an active filmmaker, respond to ‘Lifetime Achievement’ awards? Do they make you wonder if you are supposed to retire now?
It’s like, you’ve done enough, now stay at home [laughs]. But I think it also encourages me to make more movies. There’s honour... and intense emotion, to know that an important festival like the Mumbai Film Festival gives you this award.
Everyone must be asking you if you’ve watched Shanghai, the Indian adaptation of your classic, Z? Did you hear about it... or see it?
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it. But yes, they did approach me for the rights and I told them to approach the author of the novel.
You don’t seem too impressed with Bollywood.
When I see films, I get to see more vision. All the films [in Hindi] are essentially Bollywood. Since [Satyajit] Ray, there’s no other cinema, apart from Bollywood, that has made its way around the world. There’s a disconnect because we don’t understand these films. But the perception is that Bollywood makes these huge productions that are about choreography... musicals. I liked some. Some I didn’t like.
You mean we don’t make political films?
Even this [cinema] is political because it doesn’t say anything.
Do you feel there’s a sensibility disconnect between European art, American pop and Indian kitsch?
Every culture has a sensibility. It is important to not judge another country’s culture [comparing it] with your culture. Culture is permanent. I like to discover and understand culture every time I visit a new country, through its food, its music, then film and theatre. The problem is that these [Bollywood and American] films offer entertainment, but these are movies with no real problems. Shakespeare is entertainment, Sophocles is entertainment. Moliere is entertainment. But they all told us something about the culture.
Art has to say something about society and its problems. In ancient Greece, they used to say that the role of theatre and art was... Psychagogia. That means [art has to] guide your soul. People believe in cinema because it’s the most popular art form in the world that goes from one country to another.
Who in your opinion are the villains of our society? Do you still see the system to be all-powerful and corrupt?
The bad guys today are ourselves. Because of the choices we are making. There are people wielding big power, and the way they deal with it makes us miserable or makes us happy. Hollywood is going through a bad phase [with comic book adaptations and sequels] because they make films like a football game.
Do you see technology playing a role in the politics of today?
Technology can be good or bad. It is a system... like capitalism or communism, but we have to find a balance to survive. Right now there is no balance, capitalism is in triumph. With no other system to challenge it, the world is going through its biggest economic crisis. Any system has to be controlled or kept in check, and be organised for people to be happy and have a good life. But we see more and more poor people. Once upon a time, the middle class must have been very large. Today, it’s shrinking. We need another system to challenge the capitalist way of life. I don’t know what that system could be. The other problem we have is of education and control in the wrong hands. We have seen the best and the worst. We have seen wars, massacres — and also extraordinary solutions with technology.
What tip would you give film-makers to make relevant political films, given the market realities?
Spend two or three years understanding the problem you want to deal with. You have to love a story with enough passion to make a movie. What is politics? It is the way we react every day with other people and how we respect the dignity of other people. It’s not just who we vote for. As the French philosopher Roland Barthes says, all films are political. You cannot take politics out of films because everyone is political.
If you had to vote for a corrupt party or a communal one, which would you vote for? Since you’re saying voting is a must.
It is a dilemma, but it is important to vote for the right person. There are a lot of right-wing people who are good. There are a lot of left-wing people who are good. There are good people in all parties. You have to vote for the right person. It is the same everywhere in the world. But it is important to vote. I think fanaticism is the worst, because there are people who want you to do what they believe. The important thing is to not force your opinion on others.
(The Correspondent’s visit to Mumbai for the Mumbai Film Festival, organised by the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image, was a sponsored one.)