Costa-Gavras’s homecoming

In his four-decade-long career in filmmaking, this is the first time that Costa-Gavras is working on a Greek production. A guest of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, the director said that «Eden is West» is a political undertaking similar to those that Gavras is best known for. Its protagonist is Ilias, an immigrant – the name itself does not indicate his nationality – who decides to travel to France and goes through an odyssey in search of a better future. The Greek part of the filming will take place on Crete, at one of the island’s large hotels. «This is the first stop on Ilias’s voyage. He arrives at this luxurious hotel where everything is already paid for and thinks that this is what life in the Western world is like,» said Gavras. Filming will last for 11 weeks and will begin in March in the Alps, then on to Paris and finally Crete. Gavras plans to have the film ready by the end of the year. In an interview given by Costas Gavras exclusively to Kathimerini, the filmmaker spoke of the film, of politics and political movies as well as the ethical rules that filmmakers should follow. After so many years, what made you decide to make your first Greek production? I have been approached several times in the past by people who had this idea of a Greek production but it is much more difficult for one to make a movie about his own country than about a foreign land. I do not want to make something fake. Yet this movie is not only about Greece but about the whole contemporary world. Millions of people are leaving their countries. Here in Greece, people used to tell me that the foreigners who come here are thieves and murderers. My answer was that these were the exact same accusations that Greek immigrants faced. When I was a university student in Paris, I met the Averof family and I remember how the elder Averof was trying for years to remove from the Larousse dictionary the definition of the card shark as synonymous with the Greek. This same mentality meets the people who nowadays arrive in Europe with the dream of a better life. Is Europe the promise of a dream? Yes it is, even though America still remains a stronger dream. I often meet people who are impressed by the fact that I have worked in the United States. What they do not know is that life there can be hell for an immigrant. Of course, there are many people who worked hard and became successful. In general, however, it is extremely hard to become integrated into society. Europe offers other possibilities, another culture and another quality of life. Throughout your career, you have insisted on exploring political and social issues. Is this out of personal interest or is it because you believe that cinema has that responsibility? One feels intensely responsible when he tells real-life stories. The most important thing in those cases is to remain true to the ethos of the characters. Now, on what is broadly termed political cinema, it means a kind of cinema that speaks of society, its traditions and values. This is exactly what ancient Greek tragedies did, they spoke of man and society, literally or metaphorically. All great works in the history of film are political. Today, we have confined the notion of politics to the political parties, the right or left wing or the middle ground. For me, politics is the way one crosses the street, the way one relates to others, one’s manner of speech – the way in which we use what limited authority is given to us upon others. Compared to the past, is this authority, this sense of power, used in a better or worse way? We each increasingly live for ourselves. Since entering the era of globalization – which essentially is synonymous with Westernization – the world has been pushed in two directions: nationalism and individualism. Those two particularly negative phenomena are constantly expanding. They are the reasons behind the expanding phenomenon of racism. We are creatures that need to live together. It is only collectively, through society, that we can effect the kinds of changes that make our lives better. French experience What is your experience on this matter from your life in France? For decades now, foreigners, especially from Northern Africa, have emigrated to France. Their children are born and raised in France but are still considered foreigners. When the French ask me if I feel French, my answer is: «Do you feel that I am French?» The answer I get is always positive but if an Algerian asks the same question, the answer will either be negative or none at all. I do not have a solution for these problems. I can only point them out. Isn’t cinema a way of educating the public? Ancient Greek tragedy developed in parallel with democracy and served as a medium to raise public awareness on certain issues. Cinema can play a big role but filmmakers should not think that they are going to make a big difference with just one film. What we filmmakers do is to tell stories. There is the pressure from the film industry, but also from our personal ambitions and vanity. Another danger is the fact that the abundance of images that are available today, particularly through television, is offered with no moral consciousness. How difficult is it to maintain that moral consciousness and not succumb to demands or give in to something easy? I have always tried not to make concessions and whenever there was no other way but to succumb, I quit. My wife and I live quite frugally. This is why I am never in a position where I feel that I really have to take a job I do not want. When I worked in the US, I set my own conditions and I made the movies I did because these conditions were accepted. Nowadays, the situation is not the same and that is why I no longer work there. You have said that «Eden is West» contains an element of magic, which distinguishes the film from pure realism. The difficult journey of immigrants has already been told in a realistic, documentary fashion. Film has to do something different. People are well-acquainted with the real life images that they see on television. We all need the idea of a «magician» that will change things. A Harry Potter kind of guy. Is there room for an element of magic in film in today’s world? There is less and less room for magic and Utopia. When I was young, we all dreamed of Utopias. Today, young people begin their lives with the worry that in the future they might not receive a pension.