Thursday, July 23, 2015

State of Siege (1972)


Essentially this movie is a dialogue. Like The Confession before it, this film is primarily built around two people talking. But don't assume that this is some sort of My Dinner with Andre situation. This is not idle chit-chat between friends. This is a conversation about socio-political issues that are still relevant today. This is a conversation where lives hang in the balance. But even the most serious conversation can be difficult to dramatize cinematically.

Earlier this month I watched Judgement at Nuremberg. While I agree with what the film is about and as much as I love the performances in it, I found it a bit clumsy in the telling. It too is a film about conversation. Like State of Siege it is based around the idea of two conflicting viewpoints butting heads. But in order to give context and flesh-out its characters and narrative, it resorts to what I like to refer to as, “train-car structure”. You open with a scene of Spencer Tracy out and about in Nuremberg, then you get him in the courtroom for a long while, then out and about again, then back in the court room. The film proceeds like this right through to the end. An endless train of alternating scenes that alternate between boring and fascinating.

Sometimes this structure can work, but it is very difficult since you are continually stopping and starting your narrative. Just as soon as something is getting interesting, you cut away to something else and have to build up audience interest all over again. You lose momentum. What makes State of Siege so interesting, is that it manages to integrate the exposition right into the narrative. Costa-Gavras trusts that his audience is capable of absorbing various bits of information simultaneously. Interrogation and exposition weave in and out of each other effortlessly and are often occurring at the same time. While less hyperbolic, this is very much a proto version of the hypertext style Oliver Stone would be worshiped for employing in films like JFK and Natural Born Killers. It’s also hard to imagine Steven Soderbergh pulling off something like Traffic without the influence of Z, The Confession, State of Siege and Missing.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Costa-Gavras is one of our great filmmakers and should be honored as such.

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