Costa-Gavras’ ‘Capital’ ideas come to Los Angeles Film Festival

Filmmaker Costa-Gavras at the London Hotel in West Hollywood.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Even at 80, Costa-Gavras is fighting the good fight.

The Greek-born, naturalized French writer-director best known for his politically charged films such as 1969’s Oscar-winning “Z” and 1982’s “Missing,” found himself in the middle of police action in April in Istanbul.

Costa-Gavras and fellow directors Mike Newell and Jan Ole Gerster were part of a protest condemning the demolition of the historical Emek Cinema.

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“It was very peaceful,” Costa-Gavras said Friday over a coffee at a West Hollywood hotel. Lively and still strikingly handsome, the filmmaker spoke with the same passion that imbues his films.

“It was a great theater,” he said of the historic 1924 building that was closed in 2010. “They want to destroy it to build a kind of supermarket. I said to the crowd, ‘It is the wrong thing to destroy the past just for commercial reasons.’ Then vroom.”

The police descended with water cannons. Costa-Gavras and others fled to a local bakery to wait “for the storm to pass by.”


The filmmaker shook his head.

“It is a comment of the time,” he lamented. “Everything is for money. They change everything to make money to make more money.”

And money just happens to be the subject of his latest film, “Capital,” which screens Monday evening at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

“An Evening With Costa-Gavras” will feature him in conversation with screenwriter Mark Boal, no stranger to controversial political movies himself, having won the Oscar for writing 2009’s “The Hurt Locker” and earning a nomination for 2012’s controversial “Zero Dark Thirty.”

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“Costa-Gavras is a giant slayer,” Boal said in a statement. “And a serious artist. I’ve tried to learn from him. Well, actually, I have tried to steal from him.”

“Capital,” which opened in France last year and will be released here in October by Cohen Media Group, is a thriller that explores what he sees as the dark side of capitalism. French stand-up comedian and actor Gad Elmaleh plays a young executive who becomes chief executive of an important French bank. Gabriel Byrne also appears as a Machiavellian figure who runs a hedge fund in Miami.

“I stated more than 10 years ago that I would like to make a movie about money,” Costa-Gavras noted. “How money can corrupt people and how it becomes, little by little, kind of a religion — more money, more cars, more houses. We have gotten to the point where we have more and more rich people and more and more poor people. The middle class is shrinking.”

Costa-Gavras has been making movies for nearly five decades, earning strong reviews in France and the U.S. for his first film, the 1965 mystery-thriller “The Sleeping Car Murders.” But it was the breathtaking thriller “Z,” a thinly veiled dramatized account of the 1963 assassination of liberal Greek politician Gregoris Lambrakis, that put him on the international cinematic map.

Not only did “Z” win the foreign language film Oscar and an Academy Award for its fast-paced, taut editing, Costa-Gavras earned best director and screenplay nominations. “Z” also became the first foreign-language film to earn a best picture Oscar nomination in more than 30 years.

Hollywood studios and producers bombarded him with scripts.

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“The problem with Hollywood at that time is that they used to send all kind of scripts,” Costa-Gavras said. “Sometimes great ones — among the scripts was ‘The Godfather.’”

“The Godfather”?

He shakes his head and smiles.

“How can I come from Europe to make a film about a society I don’t know?” he asked. “I would have to spend like two years to learn something to make the movie. I think they did the right thing to propose it to [Francis Ford] Coppola!”

His first English-language film was “Missing,” for which he earned an adapted screenplay Academy Award with Donald Stewart. The film also earned Oscar nominations for best film, actor for Jack Lemmon and actress for Sissy Spacek.

The thriller, shot in Mexico, was based on the disappearance of American journalist Charles Hoffman during the 1973 coup in Chile.

The film marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Costa-Gavras and Lemmon.

“I sent him the script and two days later he called and said, ‘Come have a drink and we’ll speak about the movie.’”

It was over drinks at the actor’s home that the deal was sealed.

“To have that great friendship with Jack from the beginning,” Costa-Gavras said with much affection. “Every time I came here, we met and tried to find another story to make together.”


“An Evening With Costa-Gavras”

Where: Regal Cinemas 8 at L.A. Live

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Price: $13