University of Calgary

"Thriller and Performance in State of Siege (1972)".


The Films of Costa-Gavras: New Perspectives. Manchester, UK., Manchester University Press, 2020.


Costa (Konstantinos)-Gavras’ State of Siege (1972) deals with the kidnap, trail, and assassination of the undercover FBI agent Philip Michael Santor (Yves Montand) by the MLN-Tupamaro Guerilla, as well as the investigation carried out by the secret police in Uruguay in 1970. Based on the true story of the execution of the Italian-born US FBI agent Dan Mitrione by the Tupamaro on August 9, 1970, the film is structured as a political thriller. Following the classic thriller conventions, State of Siege starts with the discovery of Philip Michael Santor’s body inside the back seat of a 1948 Candillac in downtown Montevideo. The discovery ignites the investigation of the crime carried out by the police. Simultaneously, the story of the crime is depicted by reenacting the procedure followed by the Tupamaro to kidnap and to put Philip Michael Santor to trial at the “Cárcel del pueblo” (a secret people’s court located in the basement of a Tupamaro leader). Santor faces his captors and goes through a lengthy interrogatory that reveals how he was indeed an FBI agent posing as a USAID worker. The sequences depicting the interrogation process allow spectators to discover how Santor was hired by the US government to conduct counter-guerrilla warfare and to train police officers to torture their victims by using electrical shocks in several Latin American countries including the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Uruguay. By analyzing not only the innovations implemented by Costa-Gavras in the organization of the récit in his thriller, but also the reenactment of both Santor’s kidnapping and trial, reveals the reliance Costa-Gavras has on the performative aspects of film. He uses what performance scholar Richard Schechner has called “restorative behaviors” by reenacting historical events on the screen in order to move his audience to a reflection on the cost that a political organization pays when it uses violence to advance their cause.


Scholarly University Press: Tier 1


Manchester University Press
Powered by UNITIS. More features.