Although we have come to associate the political thriller with the American paranoid conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s (films like The Parallax View, All the Presidents Men, Three Days of the Condor etc…), the genre far exceeds Hollywood output. This talk highlights the work of the Greek-born director Costa-Gavras by focusing on his three 1970s political thrillers – Z (1969), The Confession (1970), and State of Siege (1973). Costa-Gavras was a mainstay of postwar global popular cinema and his 1970s films inspired fierce debates amongst film critics in France and elsewhere about the efficacy of the political thriller and popular film form more broadly. How, many wondered, could these films possibly contribute to political struggle? In this talk, which follows from my dissertation work, I argue that these three films – which function as a trilogy – examine a range of questions related to State power through the medium of popular film form. That is, rather than embrace experiments in film style (a la Jean Luc Godard and other political modernist filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s) Costa-Gavras embraced the conventions of genre film precisely in order to use this form as a medium through which to raise serious questions about the nature of state power such as: what is the relationship between authoritarianism and democracy? How do the economic imperatives of a given mode of production influence and shape State power? What does an extra-parliamentary form of political agency look like?
Patrick Marshall is a PhD student at the Cinema Studies Institute. His dissertation examines the proliferation of the political conspiracy thriller (Costa-Gavras, Rosi, Fassbinder, Pakula etc...) across Europe and America in the 1970s by situating this genre in relation to the radical political activity of 1968. He focuses on the way that this genre deployed the moral-aesthetic codes of melodrama and the narrative conceit of conspiracy to explore questions of violence in the political sphere and to re-position the citizen-spectator in relation to the State. His interests include 1970s film theory, political theory, and Marx. He will teach CIN240H1S - The Thriller in the Winter 2023 term.