Friday, November 1, 2013

Costa-Gavras's Marxist screed

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film by Costa-Gavras. But some of my most memorable films came from this Greek born and French domiciled director. Movies like Z, The Confession, State of Siege and Missing are part of my formative political and film-loving past. What I’ve always loved about Costa-Gavras is how, as a political filmmaker, he’s assimilated the rule of thumb for all great entertainment – it better be interesting or you’ll have them walking out the door! Costa-Gavras’s films are nothing if not fast-paced with excellent scores, quick cuts, and a plot that burns. It's good to see the old master (he’s now 80) hasn’t lost his touch. But let’s face it. Costa-Gavras is a Marxist or certainly strong leftist. And Capital (based on a book by Stéphane Osmont), which opens Friday at the Landmark Main, is no exception from virtually all the rest of his work. It paints a bull’s eye on, what else, capitalism. For Capital is the French equivalent of Wall Street (Oliver Stone, 1987). Instead of Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko there is French actor Gad Elmaleh as Marc Tourneuil, a supposed puppet installed as the CEO of a large international Parisian-based bank. Tourneuil is being manipulated by two factions who want control. One is Miami-based investors Bull Funds (no subtlety there) led by ruthless Dittmar Rigule (Gabriel Byrne), a controlling shareholder who wants to take over the bank and suck up the profits. But it’s hard to draw a bead on Tourneuil, a cool customer who’s aware he’s being played. His is a puzzling character: does Tourneuil hate or love what he's doing?  Because while he repels his attackers he's a defender of the system or so it seems. Like other Costa-Gavras films there is a terrific score (by Armand Amar), great action, and a very impressive depiction of the world of high finance, or at least Costa-Gavras's idea of it. (In other words, no mild-mannered Warren Buffets here.) But hold it. This is a political screed and there’s just more than a little spin. Costas-Gavras’s blanket condemnation of capitalism looks at the utter worst of this presumed immoral system, leading one to think all captains of capital are cut throat miserable SOBs, and that's putting it mildly. But often takeovers, while designed to increase shareholder value, improve and in fact save companies and jobs. This film is a Marxist wet dream. The movie abounds in lines like, “People believe that money is the tool (but) money is the master,” “Market ethics are like military ethics – the first to shoot kills the other.” We've of course heard this all before and probably in the wake of the Great Recession Costa-Gavras thought he had to make his own Michael Moore (non-doc) film. Nevertheless a lot of the story is believable except at the very end where the movie goes way over the top. Spoiler alert: After Tourneuil has fended-off one set of ravaging beasts he is the presumed captive of another. The deal is done. He walks into the boardroom where applause erupts when he announces, “We’ll keep robbing the poor to give to the rich!” Note to director: Even the most ruthless capitalists are more subtle than that. In fact, given the anti-capitalist spirit of the day they'd be in full denial to even acknowledge what they're practicing is capitalism.  

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