State Of Siege Review

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Posing as a civil adviser, US counter-terrorist agent Philip Michael Santore is kidnapped by Latin American guerillas, who demand the release of political prisoners while trying to coerce Santore into revealing the true nature of his work. But when Captain Lopez's police close in, the guerillas are left with no option but to murder their hostage.


Having just completed Z, Constantin Costa-Gavras was working on The Confession when he became intrigued by the kidnap by Uruguayan Tupamaros guerillas of an American named Daniel A. Mitrone, who was described in successive editions of Le Monde as an official, a policeman and a diplomat. Following Mitrone's murder, Costa-Gavras and Franco Solinas (who had co-scripted Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers) went to Montevideo to research the case and unearthed documentation which proved that Mitrone - who was supposedly an expert in traffic control and communication - had been teaching counter-insurgency techniques, including torture, to the Uruguayan security forces.

Unsurprisingly, there was a storm of protest from Washington when the feature was released and the American Film Institute was denied permission to screen it. Yet in banning Stage Of Siege on account of its perceived anti-Americanism and justification of political assassination, the US authorities laid themselves open to the same accusations of abuse of power that had been levelled in the picture.  

However, the ensuing furore about bias and the film-maker's right to provoke intellectual debate rather obscured the fact that the socialists who had applauded Z and State of Siege had also denounced The Confession for the supposed anti-Communist attitudes that had been commended by the right-wingers. Thus, Costa-Gavras had successfully proved the contention posited in all three films that no single ideology had all the answers and that those that refused to brook the existence of alternative doctrines were the least laudable.  

 But while the controversy proved instructive, it somewhat disguised the film's shortcomings. Yves Montand impressed by playing Santore as an arrogant advocate of ruthless capitalism, but Costa-Gavras's resort to the same flashbacking technique he had employed on Z seemed as self-conscious as the punchy editorial style and Mikis Theodorakis's clamorous score. Yet, the director insisted that this commercial approach was the best way to ensure that a serious message reached the largest possible audience and his political trilogy certainly had a profound influence on Hollywood in the Watergate era, when it also began to examine the corruption and paranoia of US society.

Politically and conceptually, a very important work but this has dated badly and was structurally clumsy to start with.