The film has been dismissed outright and its director, Costa-Gavras, until recently hailed as one of Greece’s top filmmakers, is suddenly being accused by some of getting carried away. Why? Because critics disagree with his choice to transfer onto the big screen former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’ account of the dramatic negotiations between Greece and its creditors in 2015, “Adults in the Room.” Yet, on different occasions, the same people are heard claiming – and rightly so – that freedom of expression is every artist’s inalienable right and the cornerstone of a liberal democracy.
What we are talking about is a film, which expresses the point of view of its maker, who is free to chose whatever tone he wants. It is a film based on a book. The viewer, for his or her part, also has rights and can disagree with the film’s approach or disapprove of the acting and directing. That concerns the artistic side of things. On the essential issues, however, such facile dismissal is not only wrong, it is also dangerous. There are observations made by the eccentric former finance minister in his book that were not without merit.
The manner in which he chose to approach a make-or-break issue, his arrogant and often offensive behavior toward his fellow finance ministers at the Eurogroup and other fora, are not just open to criticism but also damaged the country severely and brought it to the brink of disaster. There was no other way to save Greece but to change course.
Coming into major negotiations that concern life-and-death issues without being prepared, with single-minded obstinacy and without any real allies, to argue the impossible, even if you think you’re right, is not a sign of skill or smarts. It is more likely a sign of naivete. And when the mix also includes a large dose of arrogance, it becomes explosive – and dangerous.
Nevertheless, Varoufakis gives us ample food for thought. One high-ranking International Monetary Fund official who has crossed swords with the rogue finance minister had told me at the time that Varoufakis was making some valid points and arguments that would stand up in a university lecture theater but had no place in a discussion among “adults” who didn’t have the luxury of – or interest in – changing the world, but who were tasked with managing a real situation whose parameters were more or less acknowledged by all the relevant parties.
The conservative point of view is not the only one in the assessment of those events. There is also the other side, the so-called progressive one, which placed a greater emphasis on the decision to protect German and French banks. This is a fact that has since been acknowledged by several key players in the talks, including then Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem.
Did Varoufakis have the solutions? No. Nevertheless, he is still regarded as a star by the European left and promotes a narrative of an incident which has inevitably – and particularly given how it played out – become a part of history.
You can blame him for his arrogance and for misleading top politicians and simple citizens. But he still has the right to his opinion, as does the director who turned his book into a film. History will be their judge. But the freedom to express themselves should not be part of the debate.
After all, the final word belongs to the cinema-going public, to the adults who have the right to like or hate the film, who can decide to go or not go see it. That too is a choice.