“The Confession & State of Siege” – Costa Gavras’ Underrated Gems

                                                The European film-maker Costa-Gavras spent his 20’s in France (after moving from his native Greece in 1951), where a spellbinding cinephile culture and an active leftist politics flourished. Gavras participated in both these movements, and later in the 1960’s amalgamated his passion for arts & cinema with his commitment to expose human-right abuses & abuse of power. In 1969, Gavras gave us “Z”, an emotionally infuriating, thinly fictionalized expose of the political crimes, committed under Greece’s dictatorship. “Z” concocted a perfect framework for modern political thrillers. The wide degree of accolades, the movie received influenced a whole lot of directors around the world to showcase political & ideological injustice within a thriller format.

                                             Although Gavras embraced left-wing politics, there are no simple white and black depictions in his works; he always likes to travel within the complex gray range. “Z” was about brave truth-seekers, fighting against a might right-wing dictatorship, but he surprised all his left-leaning friends by making “The Confession” (aka “L’aveu”) in 1970, which is a condemnation of Stalinist extremists in Czechoslovakia). Gavras was inspired to construct the narrative based on the life of a Czech bureaucrat & Vice-Minister, Artur London, who was arrested by his own party in 1951, and subsequently tortured to confess on a coup he never planned. With “The Confession” and “Z”, Gavras explored the abuse of power and action on both sides of the political spectrum, and then dwelled into the volatile Latin American politics of the late 1960's with “State of Siege” (aka “Etat de Siege”, 1972).

                                           "Etat de Siege" was a fictionalized account of the kidnapping and killing of American official Dan Mitrone in Uruguay (the script was written by Franco Solinas --"Battle of Algiers", "Burn!"). The American account might tell that Mitrone was a decent family man (with seven children) trying to help the officials of a conflicted nation, and brutally killed by the leftists. The other side of account showcases that Mitrone was working for Agency for International Development (USAID), which is simply a cover to teach the Uruguayan law officers on how to use torture against their countries’ dissidents. “State of Siege” had the most balanced approach, when compared to Gavras’ previous works, as the narrative depicted its characters’ trip into the moral middle-ground. Unlike “Z” and like “The Confession”, this film doesn’t lend itself to suspense and action. While Gavras’ previous two films provided some kind of appealing resolution, “State of Siege” portrayed the futility of the conflict, where there are no mutually exclusive possibility.

Interrogation & torture of Anton Ludwik in "The Confession"

                                      Prominent French actor Yves Montand played the primary character in all these three films. His Anton Ludwik in “The Confession” and Philip Michael Santore in “State of Siege” are staunch believers of polarizing political ideals. The two men’s political ideals, however never wavers, even in the prospect of facing brutal torture and death. Montand gives a complex performance in both these films, as a man who believes that his ordeal would soon be over and that he could talk his way through the problem. “The Confession” and “State of Siege” doesn’t much to offer in the form of narrative tension, since earlier or in the middle, we get to know what’s happened to the primary character. There are no last minute expositions or hidden ulterior motives. Costa Gavras is aware of the fact that the political strife in both the films is ideologically muddled, and so he only concentrates on a group of men, who carry out their respective ideology with genuine belief.

Interrogation of Michael Santore in "State of Siege"

                                          The interrogation scenes in both the films is more about forcing the protagonists to confess to their activities rather than trying to obtain valuable information. However, the outcome and way the viewers feel towards these interrogations are totally different. Anton is a victim of gross injustice. The way he is tortured and the final court proceedings forces us to use the term ‘Kafkaesque’. If Anton is caught within a web of lies, Santore is confined within a chamber of truth. Santore’s despicable activities are gradually revealed and there is no question and what he has done. But, still Montand’s fully realized portrayal of the unofficial American diplomat doesn’t turn him into a monster. On a thematic perspective, both the films aren’t trying to bestow us with a dissertation on the conflict; it simply tries to deconstruct the ideological conflict that is only often viewed from a journalistic viewpoint.

Costa-Gavras (left) and Yves Montand

                                         On the outset, “The Confession” and “State of Siege” is outside forces’ intervention on a country’s internal affairs. The intervention sort of brings out the dark side of communism and capitalism. Despite Gavras’ political leanings, these films are just a cry against the inhumanity that resides within both these systems. “The Confession” was deemed as ‘an anti-communist screed’ in many leftist circles, while “State of Siege” agitated both sides of the political divide: one side thought that Gavras’ was little forgiving towards the American foreign policy, whereas the other side felt that Gavras’ has humanized a Latin American terrorist organization (“Tupamaros”). However, the film-maker is gutsy enough to simply look at both sides, without judging. The depiction of Tupamaros in “State of Siege” is the most conflicted as they do not like violence, but only uses it to achieve their goals (rationalizing killing in the name of liberation).

                                        Anton and Michael Santore also seem to be aware of the conflicted situation of their captors’ position. Anton says, “If I have committed these crimes, why appeal to my loyalty? And if I am a good communist, then why I am here?” Santore states to his captor: “If you kill me, it will be an act of cruelty and powerlessness and if you don’t kill me, it will be a sign of weakness.” From an aesthetic point of view, both the films collage various moments to inquire upon the psychology of the characters. The interior sequences sort of resembled and psychological confinement (especially in “L’aveu”) reminisced of sequences in Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Army of Shadows” (1969). The meticulously chosen subjective-camera techniques lend a documentary-like realism and allow the viewers to understand the characters’ ordeals. The lack of heightened dramatics, and the presence of subjective shots (there are also no grand orchestral scores) help us to understand that the periodical outbursts of the characters aren’t the film’s sole perspective. In “State of Siege”, Santore says to Hugo, the rebel/terrorist: “You want to destroy the foundation of our society, the fundamental values of our Christian civilization, and the very existence of the free world." At a earlier point, Hugo states to Santore: “Be it drinking beer, swallowing aspirin, brushing teeth, cooking food in an aluminum pan, turning on a radio, shaving, using refrigerator, or heating a room, every citizen in my country contributes daily to the development of your economy.”

                                         “The Confession” (139 minutes) and “State of Siege” (130 minutes) thoroughly explores the corrupt institutions within two polarizing political ideals, without ever being didactic. It potently depicts the never-ending circularity of political power conflicts. 

1 comment:

Utpal Khot said...

Thanks for sharing.. :)