Oscar Directors: Costa-Gavras–Background, Career, Awards (Cum Advantage; Strangers in Paradise; Foreign Directors in Hollywood)

September 17, 2020

Costa-Gavras Career Summation

Occupational Inheritance:

Nationality: Greek

Social Class:


Family: first cousin of musician Jimmie Spheeris, filmmaker Penelope Spheeris, and musician Chris Spheeris. daughter Julie Gavras, andsons Romain Gavras and Alexandre Gavras are filmmakers.

Formal Education: Sorbonne, literature; 1951; age 18

Training: study film at the French national film school, IDHEC; apprenticed under Yves Allégret,

First Film: Compartiment Tueurs, 1965; age 32


First Oscar Nomination: Z (also won Foreign Language), 1969

Gap between First Film and First Nom: 4 years

Other Oscars:

Other Oscar Nominations:

Oscar Awards: two Cannes Awards (Z; Missing in 1982)

Nominations Span:

Genre (specialties): political thriller


Last Film:


Career Length: as director,

Career Output:


Politics: Liberal; leftist, exile; father was communist

Death: NA

Costa-Gavras (short for Konstantinos Gavras; Greek born  February 12, 1933) is a Greek-French film director, screenwriter and producer who lives and works in France. He is known for films with overt political themes, such as the political thrillers, Z (1969), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and Missing (1982), for which he won Palme d’Or and an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Most of his films have been made in French; 6 of them were made in English language: Missing (1982), Hanna K. (1983), Betrayed (1988), Music Box (1989), Mad City (1997), and Amen. (2002).

His film Z is one of the few films to be nominated for both the Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. It won the latter, as well as the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film.

Costa-Gavras was born in Loutra Iraias, Arcadia. His family spent the Second World War in a village in the Peloponnese, and moved to Athens after the war. His father had been a member of the Pro-Soviet branch of the Greek Resistance, and was imprisoned during the Greek Civil War. His father’s Communist Party membership made it impossible for Costa-Gavras to attend university in Greece or to be granted a visa to the US, so after high school he went to France, where he began studying literature at Sorbonne in 1951.

In 1956, he left his university studies to study film at the French national film school, IDHEC. After film school, he apprenticed under Yves Allégret, and became an assistant director for Jean Giono and René Clair.

After several further positions as first assistant director, he directed his first feature film, Compartiment Tueurs, in 1965.

His 1967 film Shock Troops (Un homme de trop) was entered into the 5th Moscow Film Festival

In Z (1969), an investigating judge, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, tries to uncover the truth about the murder of a prominent leftist politician, played by Yves Montand, while government officials and the military attempt to cover up their roles. The film is a fictionalized account of the events surrounding the assassination of Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. It had additional resonance because, at the time of its release, Greece had been ruled for two years by the “Regime of the Colonels.”

Z won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Costa-Gavras and co-writer Jorge Semprún won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Film Screenplay.

L’Aveu (The Confession, direction, 1970) follows the path of Artur London, a Czechoslovakian communist minister falsely arrested and tried for treason and espionage in the Slánský ‘show trial’ in 1952.

State of Siege (1972) takes place in Uruguay under a conservative government in the early 1970s. In a plot loosely based on the case of US police official and alleged torture expert Dan Mitrione, an American embassy official (played by Yves Montand) is kidnapped by the Tupamaros, a radical leftist urban guerilla group, which interrogates him in order to reveal the details of secret American support for repressive regimes in Latin America.

Missing, originally released in 1982 and based on the book The Execution Of Charles Horman, concerns an American journalist, Charles Horman (played by John Shea in the film), who disappeared in the bloody coup led by General Augusto Pinochet in Chile and backed by the United States in 1973. Horman’s father, played by Jack Lemmon, and wife, played by Sissy Spacek, search in vain to determine his fate. Nathaniel Davis, US ambassador to Chile from 1971–1973, a version of whose character had been portrayed in the movie (under a different name), filed $150 million libel suit, Davis v. Costa-Gavras, 619 F. Supp. 1372 (1985), against the studio and the director, which was eventually dismissed. Missing won an Oscar for Best Screenplay Adaptation and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Betrayed (1988), roughly based upon the terrorist activities of American neo-Nazi and white supremacist Robert Mathews and his group The Order.

In Music Box (1989), a respected Hungarian immigrant (Armin Mueller-Stahl) is accused of having commanded an Anti-Semitic death squad during World War II. His daughter, a Chicago defence attorney played by Jessica Lange, agrees to defend him at his denaturalization hearing. The film is inspired by the arrest and trial of Ukrainian immigrant John Demjanjuk and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas’ realisation that his father had been a member of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party. The film won the Golden Bear at the 40th Berlin International Film Festival.

La Petite Apocalypse (1993) was entered into the 43rd Berlin Film Festival.

Amen. (2003), was based in part on the highly controversial 1963 play, Der Stellvertreter. Ein christliches Trauerspiel (The Deputy, a Christian Tragedy), by Rolf Hochhuth. The film plot alleges that Pope Pius XII was aware of the plight of the Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, but failed to take public action to publicise or condemn the Holocaust.

Gavras won César Award for Best Writing for this film.

Political-Commercial film
Costa-Gavras is known for merging controversial political issues with the entertainment value of commercial cinema. Law and justice, oppression, legal/illegal violence, and torture are common subjects in his work, especially relevant to his earlier films. Costa-Gavras is an expert of the “statement” picture. In most cases, the targets of Costa-Gavras’s work have been right-of-centre movements and regimes, including Greek conservatives in and out of the military in Z, and right-wing dictatorships that ruled much of Latin America during the height of the Cold War, as in State of Siege and Missing.[citation needed]

In a broader sense, this emphasis continues with Amen. given its focus on the conservative leadership of the Catholic Church during the 1940s. In this political context, L’Aveu (The Confession) provides the exception, dealing as it does with oppression on the part of a Communist regime during the Stalinist period.[citation needed]

Costa-Gavras is a self-proclaimed communist.


Costa-Gavras has brought attention to international issues, some urgent, others merely problematic, and he has done this in the tradition of cinematic story-telling. Z (1969), one of his most well-known works, is an account of the undermining in the 1960s of democratic government in Greece, his homeland and place of birth. The format, however, is a mystery-thriller combination that transforms an uncomfortable history into a fast-paced story. This is a clear example of how he pours politics into plot, “bringing epic conflicts into the sort of personal conflicts we are accustomed to seeing on screen.”

His accounts of corruption propagated, in their essence, by European and American powers (Z, State of Siege and Missing) highlight problems buried deep in the structures of these societies, problems which he deems not everyone is comfortable addressing. The approach he adopted in L’Aveu also “subtly invited the audience to a critical look focused on structural issues, delving this time into the opposite Communist bloc.”

Until 2019’s Adults in the Room, Costa Gavras had never worked in Greece or made a film in Greek language.[citation needed]

Awards and Accolades

Costa-Gavras has received an honorary doctorate from the Film School of the Aristotle University in 2013.

He was president of the Cinémathèque Française from 1982 to 1987, and again since 2007.

He was interviewed extensively by The Times cultural correspondent Melinda Camber Porter and was featured prominently in her book Through Parisian Eyes: Reflections on Contemporary French Arts and Culture (1993, Da Capo Press).

He received the Magritte Honorary Award at the 3rd Magritte Awards.

He is a first cousin of musician Jimmie Spheeris, filmmaker Penelope Spheeris, and musician Chris Spheeris. His daughter Julie Gavras, and his sons Romain Gavras and Alexandre Gavras are also filmmakers. He is a distant relative of actor Jordan Gavaris.


Year English title Director Writer Producer Original title

1965 The Sleeping Car Murders Yes Yes No Compartiment tueurs
1967 Shock Troops Yes Yes Yes Un homme de trop
1969 Z Yes Yes No Z
1970 The Confession Yes No No L’Aveu
1972 State of Siege Yes Yes No État de siège
1975 Special Section Yes Yes Yes Section spéciale
1979 Womanlight Yes Yes No Clair de femme
1982 missing. Yes Yes No missing.
1983 Hanna K. Yes Yes No Hanna K.
1986 Family Business Yes Yes No Conseil de famille
1988 Betrayed Yes No No Betrayed
1989 Music Box Yes No No Music Box
1993 The Little Apocalypse Yes Yes No La Petite Apocalypse
1997 Mad City Yes No No Mad City
2002 Amen. Yes Yes No Amen.
2005 The Ax Yes Yes No Le Couperet
2006 The Colonel No Yes Yes Mon colonel
2009 Eden Is West Yes Yes Yes Eden à l’ouest
2012 Capital Yes Yes No Le Capital
2019 Adults in the Room Yes Yes No Ενήλικοι στην Αίθουσα
“Biographie et Filmographie de COSTA-GAVRAS – Ciné Passion”. Cinemapassion.com. Archived from the original on 1 October 2011. Retrieved 28 October 2011.
“5th Moscow International Film Festival (1967)”. MIFF. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
“The 42nd Academy Awards (1970) Nominees and Winners”. oscars.org. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
“Berlinale: 1990 Prize Winners”. berlinale.de. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
“Berlinale: 1993 Programme”. berlinale.de. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
Crousse, Nicolas (10 January 2013). “Les Magritte fêteront Yolande Moreau et Costa-Gavras”. Le Soir (in French). Retrieved 10 January 2013.
“Costa Gavras”. Biographicon.com. Archived from the original on 19 January 2012. Retrieved 22 February 2013.
Further reading
Costa-Gavras (2018). Va où il est impossible d’aller: Mémoires (in French). Paris: Éditions du Seuil. ISBN 978-2-02-139389-7.
Michalczyk, John J. (1984). Costa-Gavras: The Political Fiction Film. Philadelphia: Art Alliance Press. ISBN 0-87982-029-2.

Riambau, Esteve (2003). De traidores y héroes: El cine de Costa-Gavras (in Spanish). Valladolid: 48 Semana Internacional de Cine. ISBN 84-87737-49-8.

Rizza, Gabriele; Rossi, Giovanni Maria; Tassone, Aldo, eds. (2002). Il cinema di Costa-Gavras: Processo alla storia (in Italian). Firenze: Aida Edizioni. ISBN 88-8329-097-6.