State of Siege

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  • State of Siege
  • État de siège
Directed byCosta-Gavras
Written by
Produced byJacques Perrin
CinematographyPierre-William Glenn
Edited byFrançoise Bonnot
Music byMikis Theodorakis
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 30 December 1972 (1972-12-30) (Germany)[1]
  • 8 February 1973 (1973-02-08) (France)[2]
  • April 1973 (1973-04) (US)[2]
Running time
121 minutes
  • France
  • Italy
  • West Germany
  • French
  • English

State of Siege (French: État de siège) is a 1972 French–Italian–West German political thriller film directed by Costa-Gavras starring Yves Montand and Renato Salvatori. The story is based on an actual incident in 1970, when U.S. official Dan Mitrione was kidnapped and later killed by an urban guerilla group in Uruguay.[3][4]


Philip Michael Santore, an official of the United States Agency for International Development, is found shot in a car after an extensive raid by police and military forces. In a flashback which takes up almost the entire film, State of Siege tells of his kidnapping by the Tupamaro guerrilla group, whose members confront him with his involvement in the training of the Uruguayan police, including interrogation techniques and torture to be used on opponents of the authoritarian regime. The Tupamaros demand the release of all political prisoners from the government in exchange for Santore, but the government declines. When a large number of the group's members are arrested, the remaining fraction decides to kill their hostage. The final scene shows the arrival of a new U.S. official to replace Santore.



Though the setting of State of Siege is never explicitly named, signages throughout the film refer to Montevideo, and the Tupamaros are mentioned by name. Costa-Gavras, living in Paris at the time and preparing his film The Confession, had learned of Mitrione's case in French newspaper Le Monde and decided to make further investigations in Uruguay himself, accompanied by screenwriter Franco Solinas (The Battle of Algiers).[3][4] The film was shot in Chile during the brief democratic socialist rule of Salvador Allende, just before the 1973 Chilean coup d'état, which Costa-Gavras would dramatise in his later film Missing.[4] Although Allende supported Costa-Gavras' project, the director faced opposition both from Chilean Communist Party members and the conservative mayor of Santiago Province commune Las Condes during filming.[5]

The role of the government's president is played by Chilean painter Nemesio Antúnez.[6]

Release and reception[edit]

State of Siege became the subject of controversial discussions upon its US release.[5] While liberal critics supported the film, it was attacked by conservative commentators for falsely indicting the US (Smith Hempstone) and presenting a "profoundly fraudulent" portrait of Mitrione (Ernest W. Lefever).[5][7] A planned screening during a festival organised by the American Film Institute in the John F. Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C., in April 1973, was cancelled by the AFI's director George Stevens, arguing that the film "rationalizes an act of political assassination".[8][9] Protesting Stevens' decision, twelve filmmakers withdrew their films from the festival, including François Truffaut.[8] John F. Kennedy's former staff member Theodore Sorenson defended State of Siege as a simplistic but "important work" in an article in the New York Times.[5]



  1. ^ "Der unsichtbare Aufstand". Lexikon des Internationalen Films (in German). Retrieved 5 March 2023.
  2. ^ a b "State of Siege". American Film Institute. Retrieved 6 March 2023.
  3. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (14 April 1973). "State of Siege". Retrieved 5 March 2023.
  4. ^ a b c Danner, Mark (27 May 2015). "State of Siege: Their Torture, and Ours". Criterion Collection. Retrieved 5 March 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d Shaw, Tony (2015). Cinematic Terror: A Global History of Terrorism on Film. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781441107084.
  6. ^ Storr, Robert (2017). Interviews on Art. Heni Publishing. ISBN 9780993010354.
  7. ^ Lefever, Ernest W. (1974). ""State of Siege": How Marxists used the Big Lie against the United States in documentary". Hearings before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Ninety-third Congress. US Government Pronting Office. p. 169.
  8. ^ a b Michalczyk, John J.; Michalczyk, Susan A. (2022). Costa-Gavras: Encounters with History. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781501390951.
  9. ^ Miller, Michael R. (18 April 1973). "State of Siege: Undesirable". The Cornell Daily Sun. Vol. 89, no. 129. Cornell University Library. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  10. ^ "Trauer in Montevideo". Der Spiegel (in German). No. 8. 18 February 1973. Retrieved 6 March 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • Costa-Gavras; Solinas, Franco (1973). State of Siege. London: Plexus Publishing. ISBN 9780859650038.

External links[edit]