Costa-Gavras: “To associate my name with that of Jean Zay is a great honor for me”

The great filmmaker Costa-Gavras receives this November 10, 2021 in Orléans the prize Jean Zay as part of the festival Recidivism. The director gave an exclusive interview to Magcentre, a few hours before receiving this award.

Interview by Sophie Deschamps

The great filmmaker Costa-Gavras receives this November 10, 2021 the Jean Zay prize in Orléans awarded by the festival Recidivism. Photo Sophie Deschamps

Major event this Wednesday evening in Orleans since the great Franco-Greek filmmaker Costa-Gavras will receive the prize Jean Zay of the Récidive festival at 8:30 p.m. at the theater. A reward to salute his unfailing political commitment throughout his career, from Z in 1969 until Adults in the room in 2019 (film on the Greek crisis which will be screened at the end of the ceremony). An affable and warm man who confided in our media with ease.

It’s always an honor to receive an award, you never get tired of it?

Costa-Gavras: Yes it is a great pleasure, but this price is very special for me. Because associating my name with that of Jean Zay is a great honor for me. I know his story, his work and what he was. The horrible death he also knew (Jean Zay is assassinated by the French militia on June 20, 1944, Editor’s note). But above all, I admire in the man all the projects that he had launched, during the period when he was minister. Projects that were taken up afterwards, and in particular the Cannes festival. He understood that the cinema is more than making people laugh on Saturday nights with the family.

SD: You chaired the Cannes Film Festival?

CG: No, I never chaired it but I was part of the jury. And I have been awarded several times (Palme d’Or for Missing in 1982, Jury Prize for Z in 1969 and Best Director Award in 1975 for Special Section, Editor’s note). But apart from what happened to me personally, it is a meeting place, the Cannes Film Festival. So it was a great idea. Not to mention that he must obviously have been unhappy not to see this festival materialize in his lifetime, which is today the most important in the world.

We will also discover this evening your last film Adults in the room which dates from 2019 on the Greek crisis. You have things in common with Jean Zay, you stand up against injustices …

CG: Yes Jean Zay gave us a great lesson by saying that we had to teach morality and we are perhaps not doing it enough today. Because what is morality? It is accepting the other as he is and above all respecting him.

For you, the cinema can only be militant?

CG: No, I don’t feel like an activist. I do shows based on real events. But it already existed in Antiquity where the shows talked about what was happening in society. Closer to us, Molière also talked about society and put on shows. And the show is not there to give lessons but to give emotions. And with the emotions, the spectator does what he wants. But I don’t see what cinema can do other than talk about society.

Are you still curious about the world around us?

CG: Absoutely ! It’s the only way to live, to live with the world. See the world and at the same time be a spectator and be an actor as much as possible. You have to be both, otherwise I don’t see how you can live.

Exactly, do you regret not having been able to talk about an event that was close to your heart?

CG: Yes, I had projects that did not come to fruition. And also because to make a film, you need a story. And sometimes there are interesting events but you can’t find the story. So there are a lot of regrets in life. For example, I would like to do the biography of great characters of the quality of Jean Zay. There is no fiction film about him.

And could you still do it today?

CG: I believe so, despite the situation which has radically changed in the way films are financed.

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Costa-Gavras: “To associate my name with that of Jean Zay is a great honor for me”