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A critical review of Costa-Gavras’ Adults in the Room
by Eric Toussaint
26 November 2019

In his latest work film director Costa-Gavras seeks to denounce the brutality with which European politicians treated the 2015 Greek crisis. Very commendable, but it is also regrettable that so much more is ignored.

Costa-Gavras is one of the great film-makers whose work is a permanent outcry against injustice. His political films have contributed towards exposing dark periods of the 20th century: Z was set in the Greek struggles of the 1960s; Missing denounced the repressive methods of certain Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s and the US government collusion; The Confession which denounced the Stalinist regimes in the soviet Bloc; Amen exposed the Vatican’s passivity and even complicity when faced with the crimes of the Nazis and the Holocaust; Capital, showed up the nature of modern capitalism. These films are references in the struggles against social injustice.

Adults in the Room enriches this anthology and it is pleasing to see that after Z, Costa-Gavras devotes another opus to Greece and the events that shook the whole of Europe in 2015.
See also Adults in the room, une tragédie grecque (in French)

Varoufakis, the principal witness

By basing his film on Varoufakis’s first hand account, Costa-Gavras succeeded in putting the totally undemocratic attitudes of European leaders into the spotlight

The main focus of the film is the European leaders’ brutal behaviour towards the Greek government, their determination to prevent the government of Alexis Tsipras from breaking the chains of austerity they had imposed through the Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) that, as Yanis Varoufakis asserts in the film, were to the benefit of French and German banks at the expense of the Greek people.

To build his narrative, Costa-Gavras relied so closely on the narrative written by the former Minister of Finance that he gave his film the same title - Adults in the Room.

By basing his film on Varoufakis’s first hand account, Costa-Gavras succeeded in putting the totally undemocratic attitudes of European leaders into the spotlight. This is very important.

Also read Yanis Varoufakis: «Au bout du compte, l’Europe a perdu» (in French)

Significant omissions

It is certainly impossible to condense six intense months of complex events into a film of two hours. Nevertheless, it is regrettable that Costa-Gavras ignored several important elements . The solidarity with the Greek people that was expressed throughout Europe at key moments of the negotiations is not mentioned at all. Varoufakis does mention it in the book and it would have been possible to show that while endless negotiations were going on in Brussels, Frankfurt or Athens, rallies of support gathered thousands in the streets and on the squares. Varoufakis himself recognizes that demonstrations of support were strong on the rare occasions that he and Tsipras did show resistance to the Troika. Those popular demonstrations were a fundamental part of events, yet they are only shown through a car window in a scene placed just after the creation of the first Tsipras government at the end of January 2015.

The people are left out

With the exception of one scene set in a restaurant where Varoufakis is with friends and a group gathers outside, the people are literally erased

With the exception of one scene set in a restaurant where Varoufakis is with friends and a group gathers outside, the people are literally erased.

This film gives the impression of endless discussions behind closed doors and Costa-Gavras finds it difficult to distinguish between the different phases of the negotiations. Although the film-maker claims to respect Varoufakis’ narrative, two fundamental elements are very much distorted.

The narrative would have the spectator believe that Tsipras and Varoufakis opposed memorandums right up to the referendum in July 2015. Whereas Varoufakis acknowledges that as from 20 February he accepted, in the name of the Greek government, a prolongation of four months to the ongoing memorandum that would have expired at the end of February 2015. They also continued a programme of privatizations that they had promised to scrap and emptied the reserves of all the public institutions in order to pay favoured Troika creditors. Varoufakis tells in the book how he made offers to the Chinese to cede to them the Port of Piraeus along with the Greek railway network thrown in for good measure. This is not mentioned in the film.


When Tsipras and Co. saw the result they showed absolutely no enthusiasm

The other distorted element concerns the way Tsipras’ inner circle of collaborators reacted to the “No” as an answer to the referendum. It must be remembered that Tsipras called the 5 July referendum asking the Greek people for a No vote in order to continue to resist the creditors. Towards the end of the film there is a scene where Tsipras and his collaborators celebrate the victory of the No vote. Varoufakis tells in the book that he was convinced Tsipras had hoped for a Yes vote that would legitimize the coming capitulation. So on this point Costa-Gavras took the liberty to depart from Varoufakis’ guiding narrative and to mount a misleading version of the events. The truth is that Tsipras was surprised by the people’s will to resist the creditors again to the point of voting “No” by more than 61%. Several key witnesses have confirmed that when Tsipras and Co. saw the result they showed absolutely no enthusiasm. Zoe Konstantopoulou, President of the Greek Parliament and at that moment friend of Tsipras, clearly points this out and Varoufakis does not contradict it.

A forgotten liberty

On the other hand, Costa-Gavras chose to respect Varoufakis’ narrative: in the 500 pages of his book Varoufakis makes no mention of the audit of the Greek debt that was carried out during the first semester of 2015. Why, after taking the liberty of creating a false scene celebrating the No victory, did he not choose to insert references to audit work being done at the same time by the Truth Committee on Greek Public Debt ? This Committee was created by Zoe Konstantopoulou with the blessing of Tsipras and Varoufakis. As the issue of debt is present throughout the film, it is curious that although the Committee’s work was eagerly followed by a large part of the Greek people, no allusion to this audit is made. All the more so, as the film L’audit de la dette grecque (in French) by Maxime Kouvaras in collaboration with the CADTM, is mentioned in the credits. This documentary, cited by Costa-Gavras, is specifically about the work of the Committee and the solidarity that the European peoples expressed in favour of the Greek people’s struggle. It also looks at the non-respect by Tsipras of the people’s will expressed in the 5 July referendum.

Favourable images

It is curious that, although the Committee’s work was eagerly followed by a large part of the Greek people, no allusion to this audit is made

The film is open to other criticisms: the behaviour of the IMF Chairwoman, Christine Lagarde, and the attitude of Emmanuel Macron, French Minister of the Economy and of Digitalisation at the time are unduly shown as respectful of the Greek government’s aims and friendly to the Greek people, whereas both were firmly embedded in the European leaders’ assault on the Greek government and hopes of the Greek people.

These criticisms do not prevent me from thanking Costa-Gavras for revealing the totally iniquitous treatment that the Greek government and people were subjected to in 2015. This is another occasion to launch debates on the lessons to be drawn and the strategy to adopt to avoid similar disasters. It would also have been fitting for the film to show that a different outcome, with success and victory against antidemocratic practices and austerity measures dictated by creditors, was possible.

See also Costa-Gavras in «Soir»: «Tous les films sont politiques mais pas partisans» (in French)

Translation Mike Krolikowski and Christine Pagnoule.

See also the series of articles by Eric Toussaint about the book Adults in the Room, “Yanis Varoufakis’s Account of the Greek Crisis: a Self-Incrimination” :

Part 1. Yanis Varoufakis’s Account of the Greek Crisis: a Self-Incrimination — Part One: Proposals Doomed to Fail
Part 2. Varoufakis’s questionable account of the origins of the Greek crisis and his surprising relations with the political class
Part 3. How Tsípras, with Varoufakis’s aid, turned his back on Syriza’s platform
Part 4. Varoufakis Surrounded Himself with Defenders of the Establishment
Part 5. The Varoufakis-Tsipras Line was Doomed to Fail from the Word ‘Go’
Part 6. Varoufakis-Tsipras move towards the disastrous agreement with the Eurogroup of 20 February 2015
Part 7. The first capitulation of Tsipras and Varoufakis at the end of February 2015
Part 8. Varoufakis’s secret negotiations and his disappointments with China, Obama and the IMF
Part 9. Tsipras and Varoufakis advance towards final capitulation

and about the film by Costa-Gravas :

Constantin Kaïmakis, « Adults in the Room » le dernier film de Costa-Gavras... à la gloire du... dernier mythe mythique grec : Yanis Varoufakis ! (in french)
Patrick Saurin, Adults out of the Room (in french)

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography:
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.