This post is part of My Movies 2019: reviews, thoughts, impressions, links, suggestions from a movie lover and of Erosion of Democracy in Europe
Varoufakis sparked one of the most spectacular and controversial battles in recent political history when, as finance minister of Greece of a radical government, he attempted to re-negotiate his country’s relationship with the EU, provoking the fury of Europe’s political, financial and media elite. But the true story of what happened is almost entirely unknown — because so much of Europe’s real business takes place behind closed doors (Rotten Tomatoes)
For my generation, Costas Gavras is a cult director, an icon of militant cinema. Z – shot in 1969, the year of Woodstock and of the highest point of the counterculture of the sixties – is his quintessential movie: with its satirical view of Greek politics, its dark humour and its downbeat ending, the film does capture the outrage about the military dictatorship that ruled Greece at the time. I have been chasing this new political film of his – Adults in the Room – since its Venice launch, but, not surprisingly, no distribution in Italy has been found up to now. Last night I had the chance to see a private screening of the movie in Prague after spending two days next to the real Yanis Varoufakis – not the fictional one – at the assembly of his new political pan-European movement Diem25. Of course it is difficult to find distribution: as producer Michelle Ray-Gavras said in the Q&A that followed, the movie is for a niche audience since it deals with a fragment of Greek recent history, there is little plot, it is filled with dialogue referring to economics’ features and it is based on the love-hate relationship between Tsipras and Varoufakis, the protagonists of the well-known fight against the European troika in the heydays of the dramatic bailout of their country in 2015. It is indeed a very short segment of history, but it is for sure symbolic of today’s world enslaved by such an economic power that even elected governments can not contrast, let alone change.
The film follows the events from Syriza’ s victory in the January 2015 election to the July referendum in which the majority of the people voted against the agreement with the EU’s austerity plan (the toxic third memorandum) and the subsequent betrayal of the Greek prime minister who said yes to the plan against his people’ will, accepting what he had been fighting against up to the day before. Even if documentary in style, the film has the director’s touch in humour and style: the surreal dance around Tsipars in the conclusion, in which the mermaids try to seduce him to accept the deal, takes you back to Z. The movie is also about the two main characters, and here the director’s approach is diverging. I am not saying that in the movie Tsipras is the villain and Varoufakis the hero, but the moral stance of the character of the finance minister is very different from the prime minister’s uncertainty which makes a not very smart character out of him. On the one hand, the film is an adaptation of Varoufakis’s book with the same title, a work that raises the curtain of the secret chambers of EU power, showing us what’s really going on behind the facade of official statements and revealing a hypocrisy of these self-referential autocrats that one would expect in Victorian times. The real Varoufakis I saw in action is at least as tough his fictional counterpart, a natural-born leader, a characteristic needed in such an epic battle.
Why Tsipras signed the suicidal troika document is the big question that the film does not explain, maybe because it is impossible. It is a matter that has haunted me up to now. Shall we believe the shocking account of Tsipras’ negative achievements written by Zoe Konstantopoulou, former president of the Hellenic parliament during Syriza’ first government? Konstantopoulou writes: “Greek people voted no to more austerity, and no to the violation of democracy by the creditors. The week before Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister who betrayed the brave no of the Greek people, visited London to present his capitulation to the troika of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank as an achievement (…) Syriza is not the leftwing party it claims to be. It has become a political zombie, crushing every progressive value as it sleepwalks to its electoral demise. Its removal from power is the first step towards restoring democracy in Greece. (If you love Greece, help us get rid of Alexis Tsipras and his zombie party, The Guardian, 9 Jul 2018).
Shall we believe these words or shall we allow a shadow of a doubt? Is it another story of political betrayal, a typical attitude that we thought this new left was immune of? Time will tell, maybe. For now, see the film if you can, it is an opportunity to look back, in real anger, at yesterday’s events.