costa gavras
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Iraia, Greece
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Iraia, Greece

Costa-Gavras is a well-known Greek-French film director and producer who is known for films with strong political undertones. His father, a tax official in Athens during WWII, worked for the left-wing resistance movement and was labeled a communist. He was imprisoned when the communists were defeated in the civil war. It not only had a financial impact on the family, but it also prevented young Gavras from pursuing higher education. As a result, he was obliged to go to France, where he earned his bachelor’s degree from the Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies in Paris. Following that, he worked as an assistant to a number of well-known directors until making his directorial debut in the mid-1960s with a French thriller called ‘Compartiment tueurs.’ His subsequent works, however, began to have an overt political message, the most notable of which are ‘Z,’ ‘État de Siège,’ ‘Missing,’ and ‘Hamma K,’ among others. With ‘État de Siège,’ he also demonstrated his ability to direct comedy. While most of his films were created in French, he was enticed by Hollywood in the 1980s and began making English-language pictures as well. He now resides in Paris as a naturalized French citizen.

Childhood and Adolescence

Costa-Gavras was born on February 12, 1933, to a Russian-born father and a Greek mother in Loutra Iraias, a village in the Peloponnese area of southern Greece. Senior Gavras, an anti-royalist tax official in Athens, was a member of the left-wing resistance movement during the Nazi occupation.

He was labeled a communist after the war, as Greece came under the sway of Western powers. He was not only fired but also imprisoned after the communists were defeated in the civil war in 1949. As a result, their financial situation deteriorated to the point where his mother began cleaning houses. Costa Gavras would also be denied entrance to any Greek university as a result of his imprisonment.

As a result, he decided to travel abroad, and in order to save money, he began working odd jobs, which allowed him to gain insight into a civilization he would not have otherwise known. He also danced in a Greek opera house for a few days, an experience that came in handy later.

Gavras planned to study filmmaking in the United States at first, but he was denied a visa due to his father’s political background. As a result, he relocated to Paris in 1951 and enrolled at the University of Paris (Sorbonne).  In 1956, he enrolled in L’Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC; Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies) to study filmmaking. After graduating, he began working as an apprentice for notable filmmakers such as Yves Allégret, René Clair, René Clément, and Jacques Demy.

Career of Costa Gavras

Costa Gavras made his directorial debut in 1965 with the film ‘Compartiment tueurs,’ a murder mystery (The Sleeping Car Murders). It was based on the novel of the same name by Sébastien Japrisot. At the box office, the film did reasonably well.  ‘Un man de trop’ (Shock Troops), his third picture, was set during World War II. It is set in Central France and chronicles the narrative of French resistance. It was released on April 5, 1967. The film was accepted for the 5th Moscow International Film Festival, which took place in Moscow from July 5 to July 10 of the same year.

His film ‘Z’ was released in 1969. It is a fictionalized version of Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis’ assassination and the military dictatorship that ruled the country at the time. It is based on the 1966 novel by Vassilis Vassilikos and presents a fictionalized version of the assassination and the military dictatorship that ruled the country at the time. This film is widely regarded as his best.

He then created ‘L’aveu’ (The Confession). The film, which was released in April 1970, is based on the true story of Artur London, a Czechoslovak communist leader who became a defendant in the Slánsk trial and suffered unspeakable torture at the hands of totalitarian authorities.

Another of his well-known works is ‘État de siège’ (State of Siege), which was published in 1972. After his 1969 picture ‘Z,’ many critics believe this to be his best effort. The story is based on the true account of Dan Mitrione, a U.S. Embassy official who was kidnapped and executed in Uruguay in 1970. It ruffled a lot of feathers in the United States.

His second picture, ‘Section spéciale’ (Special Section), was a prize winner as well. The story is set in Vichy France during the German occupation and was released in 1975. It is based on a book by Hervé Villeré. Following that, Gavras tried his hand at acting, portraying Ramon in Moshé Mizrahi’s 1977 film ‘Madam Rosa.’ He returned to directing soon after, and in 1979, he published his seventh picture, ‘Clair de femme.’  ‘Missing,’ his next film, was released in 1982. It is set in the aftermath of American journalist Charles Horman’s disappearance in Chili, and it begins with Gavras declaring the events in the film to be true. It, like ‘État de Siège,’ sparked a great deal of debate.

The film ‘Missing’ had to be pulled from the US market when a defamation case was brought against Costa-Gavras and the distribution business. After they won the case, it could be distributed in the United States in 2006. It was likewise prohibited in Chile during Augusto Pinochet’s regime. In his second film, ‘Hanna K,’ (1983), he attempted an impartial portrayal of the Israel-Palestine issue.

While the protagonist is a Holocaust survivor who now lives in Israel, he also attempted to tell the tragedy of the Palestinians who lost their homeland and homes. Unfortunately, the video made the Israel lobby uncomfortable, thus it was not shown in the United States. ‘Hanna K’ was wholly written in English, unlike ‘Missing,’ which was written in both English and Spanish. Following that, in 1986, he directed the French comedy film ‘Conseil de famille.’
‘Betrayed’ (1988) and ‘Music Box’ (1989) were his next two films, both of which were made in English. While the first dealt with the growth of a white nationalist movement in the United States, the second dealt with the prosecution of a Hungarian-American immigrant accused of being a war criminal.

‘The Little Apocalypse’ (1993), ‘Mad City’ (1997), ‘Amen’ (2002), ‘Le coupere’ (2005), and ‘Eden in the West’ followed (2009). ‘Mad City’ was a tremendous flop, despite the fact that none of them did well at the box office.
‘Mad City,’ which had a $50 million budget, barely made $10.5 million at the box office. The critics, on the other hand, praised ‘Le coupere’ and ‘Eden in the West.’ ‘Le Capital,’ Gavras’ most recent film, premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a French film about worldwide finance power struggles. Later, it was screened at a number of different film festivals and was nominated for a number of awards, but it did not win any.

Major Projects of Costa Gavras

Costa Gavras is best known for directing the Algerian-French political thriller ‘Z.’ It was a critical and economic triumph when it was released in 1969. In France, it was the fourth most grossing film, and in the United States, it was the twelfth highest grossing film. It was also the first picture to be nominated for both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Achievements & Awards

For his film ‘Z,’ Gavras won numerous honors. Among them were the Canes Jury Prize (1969), the New York Film Critics Circle Award (1969), the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (1970), and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film (1970). He also won numerous accolades for ‘Missing,’ the most notable of which were the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, the Academy Award for Best Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, 1983), and the BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay (1983). He also won BAFTAs for ‘State of Siege’ (1974) and the Golden Bear Award for ‘Music Box’ (1990). He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Aristotle University’s Film School in 2013.

Personal History and Legacy

In 1968, Costa Gavras married Michele Ray-Gavras. The marriage has three children: Romain and Alexandre Gavras, two sons, and Julie Gavras, a daughter. Romain and Julie, for example, have followed in their father’s footsteps and are also film directors. He was born in Greece but became a naturalized French citizen and now lives in Paris’ Latin Quarter on Boulevard Saint-Michel.

Estimated Net Worth

Costa is one of the wealthiest directors and one of the most well-known. Costa Gavras’ net worth is estimated to be at $18 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.