New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Photos: Dimitrios Panagos
On the weekend of February 18-19 the Hellenic Film Society USA (HFSUS) in association with the Museum of the Moving Image (MMI) in Astoria, honored famed director Costa-Gavras with screenings of two of his films, a restored digital print of his much-acclaimed film “Z”, and the New York premiere of “Adults in the Room”, his latest film. Cinematic storytelling at its most absorbing, “Z” and “Adults in the Room” capture the heartbeat of Greece—50 years apart.
The mystery-thriller, “Z” the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner in 1969, is a fictionalized account of the events surrounding the assassination of political activist Grigoris Lambrakis, a prominent leftist professor of medicine at the University of Athens and a leader of forces opposed to the placement of Polaris missiles in Greece.
“Adults in the Room” is based on the eponymous book by Yanis Varoufakis who, as Finance Minister of Greece, led the 2015 negotiations with the European Union in an effort to refinance Greece’s crippling debt and avoid the crushing austerity imposed upon the country. Gavras identified the film as “a reflection on real events, recounted via cinematographic logic and constraints of space and time… In this story, it is the human adventure that matters most; how these events affected the social, economic and political life of society, not only that of Greece.”
Gavras’ script highlights Varoufakis’ wit as he undertakes to enlighten the unknowledgeable—except for two—EU officials with necessary economic calculations in an entertaining mix of humor and gravity. As intended, however, the negative, unfair treatment of Greece that whips through the film like an icy wind leaves you cold and despairing at the end. It’s a film for the world to see.
At the screenings Gavras was present with his wife, Michèle Ray-Gavras, producer of the film,and actors Christos Loulis and Alexandros Bourdoumis, who play Varoudakis and former prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, respectively. At the Q&A for “Adults in the Room” moderated by Foster Hirsch, noted film critic and professor of film at Brooklyn College, Hirsch suggested to Gavras that the way in which the material is presented, the title “Adults in the Room” “isn’t quite accurate; it should be ‘adult in the room’ because his character is the only character we’re really rooting for. He’s the hero. He’s the adult, and nobody else really is.” Not so, Gavras replied, “Varoufakis is one of three people who know about the Greek situation; Christine Lagarde and the German minister, Wolfgang Schäuble were the other two ‘adults in the room’. The others know very little about economics. They were named ‘Minister of Economics’ without really knowing about economy, particularly about the Greek economy, and also the European economy.”
Gavras explained that “When Varoufakis was negotiating, he understood very quickly that there was no transcript, so he opened his telephone, and taped everything. And with these tapes he was able to write his book, which is an extraordinary book… to have it in English is really a kind of great lesson. In England they perceive it as one of the best books on economy since ever. Among the hundred best books on economics.” Michèle Ray-Gavras added that Gavras did “hours and hours of clips of all the dialogue from the tapes.” For Hirsch this confirmed that the film’s dialogue is real, taken from life.
Hirsch asked Loulis whether he got to know Varoufakis, and whether he liked him. First denying Hirsch’s assertion that he looks like Varoufakis, “who is much more beautiful!” Loulis answered that he knew and admired Varoufakis as a political person constantly on TV in the crisis years. “I liked Varoufakis and admired him very much as someone who always knew what he was talking about” said Loulis, who never liked SYRIZA, and “couldn’t bear that he worked with these guys.” At their first meeting—dinner at Varoufakis’ house, Loulis and Varoufakis stayed up “talking and drinking whiskey until 6:00 in the morning,” with Varoufakis answering Loulis’ many questions about what was going on. Loulis realized that while things look black and white from a distance, they are not really black and white. “He really stirred up my curiosity about things.” Asked by Hirsch whether Varoufakis was embittered by what happened, Loulis answered, “Yes. Yes he was.”
There followed a discussion about Varoufakis’s wordrobe, which Gavras described as a wardrobe “Greeks didn’t like.” The same for his motorcycle. “This became a very big problem for him, because he was not accepted,” said Gavras. Loulis disagreed, saying that his leather jackets and refusal to wear neckties were admired by the Greeks, adding, “But then in Greece, the more we love somebody, in an instant we hate him.”
The music for “Adults in the Room” is written by the famous multi-award winning French
film score composer, Alexandre Desplat. Desplat has an enormous filmography that includes music for several blockbuster movies; his score for “Isle of Dogs” was nominated for an Oscar this year. The “Adults in the Room” score, said Hirsch is “so rich, and has such a Greek feeling.” “Actually, in Greece a lot of people didn’t like it because it had the bouzoukee in it, saying ‘why do we need a bouzoukee?’ They felt that it was ‘too Greek,’” said Loulis, “like going to a Greek restaurant and ordering moussaka… so ‘folklore.” Gavras joined in to say, “Alexandre is a major musician. He is half Greek; his mother is Greek, so he knows Greek music very well. He was able to use the bouzoukee and some other Greek instruments which generally are not accepted in Classical music… I asked him to give it Greek flavor. He did a very good job, I think.”
The screenings were part of the HFSUS Always on Sunday monthly Greek film series at the MMI.
For more information on HFSUS and its upcoming screenings go to: www.hellenicfilmusa.org and follow on Facebook and Instagram. Telephone: 646-844-1488.