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Non-Review Review: Le Capital

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013.

Thanks to Costa-Gavras, Le Capital looks amazing. It’s crisp, it’s vibrant and it’s beautiful. For a movie about financial corruption, it moves along relatively quickly and with a lot of visual flair. The problem with Le Capital, though, is that it’s really a very simplistic version of a story we’ve all seen countless times before. A person assumes a large amount of power, only for that power to have a potentially corrupting influence. Okay, Marc Tourneuil is already a successful executive when good fortune thrusts him into the role of CEO of one of France’s largest banks, and he’s certainly not naive when he negotiates his salary and bonus scheme, but Le Capital hints early on that there is some level of decency to Tourneuil before the wealth and influence start chipping away. As such, as the movie explores his corruption and the way that power erodes him, Le Capital feels like an engaging modern telling of a story that we’ve already heard quite frequently.

Byrne the bondholders...

Byrne the bondholders…

To be fair, there is a lot to recommend Le Capital. For one thing, as mentioned, there is the superb direction from Costa-Gavras. He does an excellent job rendering a movie about investments and corporate take-overs in a visually compelling manner. Some of the best sequences see Tourneuil directly addressing the camera in the style of Francis Urquhart, or a few brief tangents into Tourneuil’s imagination as he visualises different ways that particular meetings could play out.

Le Capital is also anchored in Gad Elmaleh’s central performance as the corporate flunky who inadvertently finds himself promoted to CEO of the Phenix Bank. Le Capital plays a bit coy with Tourneuil as a character. He’s not an idiot. He has wormed his way to a position of great power before the movie starts, without presenting himself as a threat. That requires some major political savvy and a great deal of cynicism. Once he is appointed CEO, he is very clever at working to retain that position, and isn’t shy about making necessary enemies.

Plane sailing...

Plane sailing…

At the same time, Le Capital suggests that Tourneuil is a decent man. He genuinely feels bad about the things that he is coerced into doing. When his uncle attacks his position as a betrayal of social justice, Tourneuil mounts a defense that sounds reasonably convincing, only to privately concede that his uncle is entirely right. There’s enough doubt there that there’s some suspense to be had – is Tourneuil just a shrewd political operator, or is he a decent man doing what he can with what he has? It’s enough to sustain the film, and Elmaleh’s performance is pitch perfect.

Unfortunately, the movie’s outlook is a little simplistic. The French are in the thrall of the Americans. The Americans, for their part, are deeply indebted to others. When an American group fronted by a deliciously slimy Gabriel Byrne attempts to coerce Tourneuil into doing their bidding, the cultural divide between America and France is rather clumsily stated. “They like Paris, not France,” he explains to his board. “They dislike the social laws.”

Rain of terror...

Rain of terror…

The Americans adhere to the philosophy of “cowboy capitalism.” In one meeting, Byrne’s corrupt executive explains, “Money is the master.” While some might see it as “a tool” to accomplish a goal, the executive sees money as an end to itself. It’s not an especially complex position, and Le Capital is certainly lacking in subtlety on this point. Indeed, Byrne’s character is fronting an organisation known as “the Bull Fund Group.” It’s hardly the most nuanced exploration of the attitudes that generate and fuel the economic crisis.

Still, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t accurate, and Le Capital earns points for dealing the sociopathy that seems deeply-rooted in this particular banking culture. However, the film doesn’t seem to question French practises and philosophy in this area. The dichotomy is quite clear: American banking bad, American influence on French banking bad, French banking itself good. The Phenix becomes quite a corrupt and immoral organisation when Tourneuil is coerced into adopting the American policies, but there’s never any real exploration of whether the institution might have been morally questionable before that point.

Board already?

Board already?

That said, Le Capital is very well put together. In particular, the soundtrack from Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen is quite lovely, and the cinematography of Eric Gautier gives the film a decidedly cosmopolitan feel. Indeed, the production does a fair amount of globe-trotting (with Tourneuil astutely pointing out that at least the ambitions of the internationalists of the sixties have been fulfilled, if in a bizarre sort of way). The film features sequences in Paris, Tokyo, London and New York. The dialogue switches between French and English. This genuinely feels like an international effort, and it’s quite impressive to watch.

Le Capital isn’t an innovative film. It doesn’t really offer a particularly probing or insightful examination of the current economic crisis. However, it is very well put together, is very well acted, beautifully shot and just looks very stylish. It breezes along, and tells a very familiar story in a manner that is quite exciting.

I don’t normally rate films, but the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival asks the audience to rank a film from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, I ranked this film: 3

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