Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Costa-Gavras' CAPITAL is capital indeed -- fast, frisky, angry and ironic -- plus a Q&A with the director and his surprise star, Gad Elmaleh

He's still got it. And he's still giving it out, too. The Greek-born, works-in-France, Oscar/BAFTA/Cannes/
Berlin-winning (among many other awards) filmmaker who goes by the name of Costa-Gavras remains at 80 years of age a writer/director to know and reckon with. His new film CAPITAL harks back to his nifty 2005 film The Ax (Le couperet) in its use of irony and humor while dealing with a dark subject (sudden unemployment in the earlier movie, the uber-entitled world of one-per-cent in this new work).

In his latest film, Costa-Gavras (pictured at right) is joined in screenwriting by Karim Boukercha and Jean-Claude Grumberg (their adaptation is of the novel, Le Capital, by Stéphane Osmont). Its twin themes are once again what this filmmaker most often seem to tackle: justice and power -- how these intertwine, together with their effects upon each other, with the former so often falling to the latter.

This time, rather than evil taking the form of brutal fascist government suppression (Z, State of Siege, Missing), the filmmaker, as he has more lately done, takes a look at power and justice via-a-vis the way we live now: globalization and outsourcing (The Ax), immigration (Eden is West) and in this latest venture, money.

Capital's biggest surprise, however, lies in just whom Coasta-Gavra has cast as his star. He's chosen an actor, Gad Elmaleh (above and below), most familiar to U.S. fans of foreign film as the comedian who graced both The Valet and the even better Priceless. In France Elmaleh is evidently a hugely popular performer who does stand-up comedy (see interview below), in addition to his film and TV work. Capital is the first major serious role he has undertaken, and he proves quite effective in the part.

As Marc, the mid-level corporate guy and assistant to the big boss, who is suddenly elevated into a position of power because those in control imagine him to be properly subservient, Elmaleh brings things to the table that many other actors wouldn't and couldn't. First of all, his persona is that of a nice guy, and though what he does in the film is anything but, we keep expecting this out of him (as do his bosses), and this makes for some particularly juicy irony and humor.

How he responds to everyone from those in power (his firm has been bought out by a larger corporate entity led by Gabriel Byrneabove, right) to his kind and caring wife (Natacha Régnier, below, center left)...

to the very hot model (Liya Kebede, below) after whom he lusts rabidly is all just part of the game for our guy. Yet we keep hoping we're wrong and that he'll see the light. But what might that light be, in this age in which only money and power count as important?

The machinations Marc must manage in order to hold on to his power are fraught and involve the usual combo of money, shares, and gossipy double-dealings that come with the territory. If these are not quite as interesting as Emaleh's ever-mysterious performance -- which never lets go of the mystery of this man, who he is and why -- the plot shenanigans prove funny and fascinating enough to keep us watching. This is particularly true of those that include the genuinely kind and intelligent "Japan expert" played by Céline Sallette, below, right.)

The movie finally has a very odd effect: You root for Marc, even as you're appalled at his behavior. He may be a money-grubbing cad, but nearly everyone else on the grid in which he operates is ten times worse (but not half so clever).

Capital -- from Cohen Media Group and running 114 minutes -- opens this Friday, October 25, in New York City (at the Paris Theater and Regal's Union Square). It hits Los Angeles the following Friday, November 1 (at Laemmle's Royal, Town Center 5 and Playhouse 7), as well as nine other territories around the country.


What a treat to meet a director I have admired for most of my adult life. Despite what must have been a grueling day of meeting the press and putting up with our foibles and fantasies, Costa-Gavras (shown below, whom we'll now refer to as G-C) was in fine form, even toward the end of the day. Below, TrustMovies appears in boldface, while C-G 's words are in standard type.

TM: I thoroughly enjoyed your movie. I’ve seen almost all of your films since Sleeping Car Murders, and in this new one, stylistically it seems you’ve moved to a different level or realm.

C-G: This depends on the situation. We now live in a kind of rich world where things are… where there is a lot of power, so things move more slowly and people are seemingly relaxed. We live in surroundings that are so rich. For instance, I tried to find a very expensive watch for the character. And I discover that this watch now costs half a million dollars.  (We both laugh.)  Finally we settle on a watch that costs only $80,000.

And you had to give it back after the film?

Of course. And we kept it in a safe each night!

It seems that these days your films –particularly this one and the one you made before Eden is West

The Ax?

Yes, The Ax! These are going more for, well, satire…

I would say more irony than satire, This is probably due to my age, and seeing things differently now. Seeing how people live and hearing them say, "We have to do this, we have to do that." And I say, "But why: We could live with so much less."  So I like the irony.

Your irony is a kind of weapon, the way you use it.

Exactly.  But it is not always easy. You have to find the right way.

Did you choose Gad Elmaleh for this role?

Absolutely.  I chose him. I say this to my producers, in Europe, and over here: The condition is the relationship with the actor. It’s a major thing. The two of you create a third character. 

Did you also choose Riccardo Scarmarcio (at left) for Eden Is West?


And the actor for The Ax?

Yes, José Garcia (shown below) is a very big comedian in France. And Elmaleh only did comedy before this film. Except for a very small role in La Raffle.

If there was one theme I had to pick from your films over the years, it would be that of seeking justice.

I would say: justice and power.

Yes, of course.

Justice because it is the only way to respect the freedom and dignity of other people.  The most important thing for democracy is justice.  But for me it is also the power.  Because it is all over. It is not only political power for me. We have power over some and others have power over us. And this can make us happy. Or make us miserable.

Or at least make ourl ives decent enough that we don't notice it so much. Which is OK, I guess.  But all this seems to changing now.

It is, unfortunately.

And this power is then competing with the justice, so now it's whether we accept that justice or not.
(CG nods agreement) What have you found most different in making movie now, as an older man.

There is too much respect. Which I don’t like so much. (I laugh aloud)


Yes, of course, a director has to be in some way respected. But I like also people coming to me and saying, "Well, you know, this thing here, it could be different. So I say, "Yes. it could" or "No, this thing cannot be changed. It must remain as is. Just accept it." But these days, there is too much respect to come to me and say anything.

I wonder if this is your age, partly. But also it may be that people are more sheep-like these days.

Maybe. Probably.

So Costa Gavras would prefer less respect!

(He laughs) Except on occasion.

Ah: so people just have to know when that occasion arises.


Do you have anything planned that you'll be working on next?

I am trying.  I have a subject. The problem is always the same thing: You have a good idea, but in cinema you need a story. And characters to make the evolution of this story. And sometimes this good idea does not have a good story. So it all this takes time.

But at this point you at least have the idea?  So you are just now trying to flesh it out.


When you look back at all of your many films, is there any one that is your favorite now. I’m sure at the time you are making them everyone was your favorite. But now.

I used to say that movies are passions, from the moment you are doing it, and for that while. I also would say that they are like children. I have two sons and a daughter. And l always say that, if I have a son that is, say, not doing very well in life. Then that is the son I most care about.  Movies are like that. The movie that did not do very well, or that people did not go to see. That one is special to me.

(We get the signal that our time is up, and so we bid adieu to this fine and oh-so-seasoned director.)


Downstairs in the hotel lobby, we get a few minutes with Capital's star Gad Elmaleh (below) and break the ice by talking about the horrible humidity on this particular day. The temperature’s not so high, but the humidity seems around 90%.  Below, TrustMovies appears in bold, and Emaleh in standard type.

GE: That’s odd isn’t it, this humidity, because you don’t have the sea.

TM: Oh, sure – we have the sea. It’s all around us. You just don’t see it most of the time, what with all the hi-rises and skyscrapers and huge buildings all around.

Ah, that’s right.  (He laughs.)  I think you see it more downtown.

Right – or at the East River or the Hudson River.

On this trip to NYC, it seems so different because of all the different neighborhood I have seen. The differences between them is so great here: the dfferences between the lower east side and the upper west side, or even right here

Isn’t it that way in Paris, too. From arrondissement to arrondissement?

No. I don’t think so. Not so much. You don’t see a great difference. Before, when I come for just a short time,  I do not notice.  But when you come for two months—

Two months! Is that how long you’ve been here?


You’re making a movie?

Well, I am shooting making a documentary I am directing about doing stand-up in English. So I went to the Comedy Club to do stand-up.

So you do stand-up in France?

Yes, yes: I do.

I didn't realize. I am used to seeing you in comedies like The Valet (above) and Pricelesss (below) 

I LOVE Priceless!

Me, too. That director is just so wonderful. I think he makes the best comedies. Like Cible émouvante!  What a great movie. And the one with Auteiul and Kiberlaine....

Apres Vous!

Yes! I think this guy is the most under-sung director—

What is 'undersung'?

Like the least heralded, the least well-known. But he should be well-known!

Ah, yes.  Agree -- he is so talented and educated and is passioned by movies!

What’s his name? Salvatore…

Right -- thanks! Now, this movie, Capital. For you, this is something very different....

Oh, yeah: It’s the most serious part I have ever done in a movie.

And mysterious, too.  I still don't understand it all.

Yes, (he laughs). Me, too!

I wanted so much to believe in the character you play. But I don’t know if I can. And we don’t get this kind of ambivalence from very many movies. Or a character this oddly mysterious.

No, no. I understand. I think it is strange. I don’t know why exactly. But one day I asked Costa-Gavras, Why me?  Why did you choose me?

Wow—I asked him that, too!

Well, he said to me, "Why? Aren’t you pleased? Aren’t you happy with this…?"

I tell him, "I am so happy with it. And excited and honored. But I am a comedic actor."

And he tell me, "That’s why!  Because you are a comic actor, people in Europe will need to see you as a sympathetic guy. They need this. So I will put you in, and it will be worse.  He will be the worse guy ever because he will smile at you and then stab you in the back at the same time!"
Well, this is his vision...

Your character does do this… and yet he doesn’t.  It’s true he cheats on his wife (or at least tries to, even if he doesn’t get to do it).  And with that gorgeous, amazing actress…

Liya Kebede.  She’s a New Yorker, eh?

No?  Really.  I didn't realize that. I’ve seen her in three films now, and she so versatile and different I wouldn’t recognize her from movie to movie. 

Yes, yes.

And now, we think you’re versatile, too! So tell me about the stand-up that you are doing here. 

I am doing shows in both French and English in New York. In French for the French-speaking in New York City, and in English, just to try this in front of an audience at the Comedy Club. We shot a documentary over two months that is all about this. 

Wow-- great! Will it be shown here?

Yes, I think so. Because we also have conversations with other comedians in it:  Woody Allen, Eddie Izard and others. It's all about comedy, and all about my job.

How did Capital do in France?

I think the movie was a surprise to my fans. They went: OK: Now, when is the next movie.  It was very interesting to see the reaction.  The reviews were good for my acting, like I never have when I do comedy.

But you get good reviews!

Well, sometimes.  But this was different. To get all this praise.

Well, comedy is never appreciated the way “dramatic acting” is, I'm afraid. What are you doing next, after this documentary?

I have five more shows here in NYC, then Toronto, Montreal, then back to France.

Will you do more dramatic roles?  Or will your fans not like that?

It’s not about my fans. But maybe not. I am a comedian.  I really like comedy.  Like when Adam Sandler did that change with Punch Drunk Love.

Was Spanlish serious, too?

Yes, more so than not.

But then he went back to comedy.  I find I really like the documentary genre, too.  Yesterday I spent half the day watching documentaries.  One was about the Amish…  

Maybe you'll have a whole new career. Please let me know when your documentary comes out. I’d love to see it.

We’ll do some screenings, so I definitely will.

This was a real treat. It was great to meet you, Gad.

Me, too. Thank you so much. And I will let you know when the documentary is screened.

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