Film makes powerful statement

Costa-Gavras has a way of saying enough is enough, even in film noir. Even when the lead character is nothing like the idealist scientist in «Z,» the American activist in «Missing» or even the combative Catholic priest in «Amen.» Even when the hero is simply a straightforward criminal, an unemployed man in despair, the hero of his new film, «Le couperet» (The Ax). A leading European director who has kept his identity intact even during his time in Hollywood, Costa-Gavras’s 40-year career is based on the notion of «truth,» while he remains adamant that «there is no such thing as an apolitical film.» A low-key man with strong opinions, at the age of 72 Costa-Gavras is a fighting and insightful observer of the world. A frequent visitor to Greece (he was born in Loutra Iraias before moving to France at 19), Costa-Gavras was back in Athens recently for the premiere of «Le couperet,» the curtain raiser of the 11th Athens International Film Festival, «Opening Nights» – the film opened at local cinemas last week. Based on the novel by American author Donald E. Westlake, the film’s hero is a middle-class employee and family man who loses his job. Two years later, scorned and unemployed, he turns into a serial killer and gets rid of all potential competition. A «conte amorale,» according to the director, «Le couperet» speaks an immense, scary truth. Where does the truth lie in the film? The murders are a parable. The truth is in what the hero’s going through, the fact that he has lost his job. We all depend on our job and what we make out of it. A family counselor tells the hero, «You’re not your job.» We identify with our jobs too much and we forget about other things. No doubt it’s creative for somebody to be happy at work. The same goes for me, too. Through time, however, we leave behind pieces of our lives because we have become our work… What do you feel you’ve left behind? I could have spent more time with my children [one daughter and two sons]… Today I spent a lot of time with my grandchildren and I can see that it’s a very strong life relationship. Of course I’m aware of the fact that in order to do all that I have done in my life I had to dedicate myself to my work. Why did you choose murder as a parable? The story is a tragic one, and in tragedy murder is necessary. At the same time, I tried to incorporate some comedy. Thanks to these comedic elements, there’s hope. In a certain way comedy postpones murder. It’s true that Bruno Davert is not very keen to commit the murders… He feels and says that he’s at war. In war you kill – unwillingly. There is no moral code. It’s about winning. We only think of ourselves. Don’t forget, of course, that «Le couperet» is not realistic, it’s a genre film. The film could be defined by a sense of romantic cynicism… Naturally. The hero is a romantic. He dreams of the ideal production line where the employees are not actually walking, but roll on a special kind of machine. Which face of terrorism is more effective, the one that murders dozens of people in cold blood or the one which systematically destroys society? In the film, it’s not my hero who is the murderer, but those who fire 1,000, 2,000 workers, throwing them out on the street in order for the shareholders to make more money. They are the terrorists and that’s where society is heading. The economy above all. Even dictatorships were interested in man. Today’s democracies refer to the economy. How does modern man live, given this framework? In sheer loneliness. Each man for himself. Me and my family. Up to now they got rid of the workers, and that was nearly acceptable to all. Today, however, they are firing the middle class, and with no great difficulty. Only recently, a French company fired 1,200 employees, while profits were up 48 percent. The security fence of the welfare state appears to be in decline… Totally. The state is constantly giving in. I don’t know who is setting the example today, Bush or Blair, but societies belong to the few. I made the following calculation: 500 CEOs are in control of 55 percent of the world’s output. Five hundred people in charge of 6 billion. It’s a very rough system. We screened the film in the factory we used for the shoot, in the town of Epinal. Following the screening, we held a discussion with the audience. The town’s mayor said to me: «You know today, we, the elected representatives, have no power whatsoever. I can deal with roads, impose taxes, but I can change nothing when it comes to the national economy.» How did the factory workers react? They are all scared that although the company is doing well today, in five, 10 years’ time, it will move to Brazil. When people live that kind of agony, they’re experiencing complete loneliness. That’s when people’s characters change… Those who lose their jobs lose their self-esteem as well as other people’s respect, because they can’t live next to them, move in the same circles… Their private and social lives are ruined… Do you believe that there is a fine line between threatening murder and actually committing one? I think we all have the murder seed inside. Thankfully, very few of us reach the stage of executing it. During the shoot of «Amen» you declared that that film’s subject made you really angry. Is that also the case this time around? I believe that anger is one of the best incentives. In this case, there was an added element of satisfaction: I was shooting a thriller with elements of comedy. In the film, the camera occasionally zooms in on advertising billboards. I wanted to show the extent to which our daily lives are influenced by advertising. There’s some kind of schizophrenia here, not to mention a new kind of woman; headless, she is just a body. All these bodies move around in order to fulfill male fantasies. When the police arrive at the hero’s house to conduct some research, his daughter opens the door in her underwear, fully aware that by doing so she is buying some time… Where else have you screened the film so far? A few days ago we showed it at La Sante Prison in Paris. An inmate of 10 years said to me: «I like this guy. Do you think this is because I’m in prison, or do those on the outside like him too?» Another one asked, «Do you think that Bruno Davert would ever kill his wife’s presumed lover?» Later, I was told that this man had committed this exact crime. As a director, you have always been a fervent supporter of cinema’s role in society. Is cinema more or less part of society today? Cinema’s greatest problem today is that it has been demystified. There are dozens of films screened at any given time. There is a sense of consumerism. It used to be some kind of necessity in the old days. Today’s dramas are not human relationships, but violence and sex. Cinema should offer audiences a chance to become a little bit of film directors themselves – to complete the picture.