Adults in the Room review: Costa-Gavras revisits the Grexit crisis with panache

Costa-Gavras’s adaptation of Yanis Varoufakis’s memoir creates a very human drama out of a painful episode from recent European history. There’s even a time for a dance.

Tom Bond

The EU debates in Adults in the Room

The EU debates in Adults in the Room

Over the past few years it’s fair to say that plenty of British people have become unofficial experts on this film’s subject. Adults in the Room is an adaptation of former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’s memoir of the same name, which claims to remove the guesswork by revealing what really happened behind the scenes of the Greek Eurozone crisis.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his close friend Varoufakis were two of the key figures the Syriza Party (the Coalition of the Radical Left), which was elected to govern Greece in January 2015. They ran on an anti-austerity mandate, but once in power ran up against the EU’s insistence on maintaining the existing Memorandum of Understanding, an agreement that committed Greece to further austerity and the sale of national assets.

Adults in the Room navigates those treacherous political waters with great skill, condensing a labyrinthine political and economic situation into a thrilling soap opera. Costa-Gavras’s adaptation establishes the conflict quickly and clearly, before entering the hell that is months of repetitive, dead-end negotiations with an opponent that refuses to compromise.

The EU and its various institutions don’t come out of this tale well, displaying an exaggerated arrogance, stubbornness and lack of empathy that damns them in the face of what Varoufakis insists be referred to as a “humanitarian crisis”.

Costa-Gavras depicts this bureaucracy visually as well, with some mischievous choreography during otherwise rote conversations. There are moments when he has a room of aides click their laptops shut in rhythm, or a group of ministers all rise in sync. It’s clear which he considers the human side of this clash, and which the one ruled by tradition and protocol. One of the film’s most daring and powerful moments comes when all these formalities fall away, and Tsipras (a strong supporting performance from Alexandros Bourdoumis) finds himself trapped in the push and pull of a dance from all the leading EU figures. This stylistic flourish perfectly depicts Tsipras’s inner turmoil as he decides whether to sign the memorandum or not.

It’s important to remember this is not a factual account, but Varoufakis and Costa-Gavras’s composite perspective. That said, while the EU leaders may appear to be caricatures, the film seems to respect the fact that they are doing what anyone would do to protect their own interests. The real goal of Adults in the Room is not to eviscerate the EU but to make the viewer understand what a difficult choice the Greeks faced and how they tried to do their best by their country at every turn.

The theatrical tone exposes a few poor performances and sinks a couple of scenes entirely, but is saved by Christos Loulis’s excellent lead performance as Varoufakis. He may not be the only adult in the room, but he’s arguably the most human, bringing every argument back to the victims of Greek austerity and how they can be saved.


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