‘Le Capital’: The Evil of Capitalism Not an Excuse for Bad Cinema
Directed by Costa Gavras
Written by Jean-Claude Grumberg and Costa Garvas
“Le Capital”, Greek-French filmmaker Costa Gavras’ latest work has a motley assortment of problems, bespeckled with intermittent charisma which proves insufficient to masque the utter ridiculousness that makes up large swathes of the film. It stars Gad Elmaleh (a dismal choice) as Marc Tourneuil, an uppity upper-middle class banker who incidentally rises to the top position of the bank he works for. While the old guard at the bank consider him more of a puppet placeholder that would be easily manipulated, Elmaleh’s character has other ideas: by ostensibly acquiescing to an American fund bent on taking over control of the bank, which includes orchestrating a 10% lay-off of the bank’s global workforce, Tourneuil starts on an ambitious course of consolidating his grip on power and earning himself tens of millions in legal and illegal bonuses. Will Tourneuil succeed in outwitting the American sharks and the crusty French banking establishment? Will victory cost him his marriage? And does he even care?
A terrible script and the disastrous casting of comic actor Gad Elmaleh in the main role are the most grating weaknesses of “Le Capital”. Tottering between thriller and social indictment, the film manages neither to grip with sophisticated, true-to-life feints from the convoluted world of financial speculation, nor to conjure the moral indignation in the face of blind, mechanical greed that subtends the global financial mafia, which is its ultimate goal. France has a very extensive history of cinema of social protest, which usually showcases the downtrodden, outcast victims chewed and spat out by the system on whose acme Marc Tourneuil clambers. Here the filmmakers assume the rarer vantage point of the capital votary, trying and failing to shed light on the psychological motivations of pathological money-addicts. The closest the audience gets to the force driving the protagonist’s ascent is trite aphorisms along the lines ‘The richer one is, the more respected’, or ’Money serves you if you treat it nicely’. And that’s as deep as it gets.
Elmaleh’s casting, whether hustled by producers or a bona fide directorial choice, leaves audiences cloyed with the actor’s comedy gigs and stand-up appearances with a ruthless, scheming banker incarnation bound to ring false. While undoubtedly a gifted albeit one-trick comedian, Elmaleh is unable to shed the underdog, nice-guy aura inherited from his previous work. Traits that are perhaps meant to convey ambivalence or contradiction come across as superficial banalities. The imaginary interstices that occasionally hint at a Tourneuil envisioning an alternative course of action, while intended to illustrate the possibility of a moral dilemma or rebellion against the conformity that capital demands of its servants, instead resemble laughable film-school exercises.
Did Costa Gavras aim for meta-ridicule in the scenes of Tourneuil’s pitiful attempts at inculcating American English to his son (I felt embarrassed for the actor rather than disdainful of the character – if that was the intention) or drooling like a horny but puppy-eyed teenager after model-cum-very-expensive-prostitute Nassim (pitifully played by Ethiopian model Liya Kebede, whose purported sensuality is so blatantly forced that we are left to wonder if Kebede was picked after flunking an amateur acting workshop)? Indeed, the film is brutally ungrateful, borderline misogynistic, towards its female characters – even fine actresses like the habitually excellent Natacha Régnier, playing Marc’s dutiful wife Diane, and the less well-known Céline Sallette in the role of a minor nemesis have a very hard time countering the overwhelming clichés that make up their characters. The dialogue between Marc and his wife Diane never go beyond platitudes of the type:
Him: “Honey, I made so much money”
Her: “We don’t need so much money to be happy”
Attempting an ironic, ambiguous ending, the film closes where it began – with Tourneuil reappointed to his job this time for real, having gained control of the bank and earned the admiration of the banking clique, his marriage in limbo. The audience, for its part, is none the richer.