Film directors used to pull their villains, good guys and
drama from bloody coups, historical battlefields and the
fantasy worlds of comic books. But since the financial crisis,
theyve increasingly been turning to sinking banks,
corrupt hedge funds and king-making stockholders. Thats
the territory plowed by Costa-Gavras latest feature, Capital, which opened in the U.S.
late last month. Costa-Gavras, whose 22 films include
Z, an account of the 1967 overthrow of the Greek
government that won an Oscar for best foreign language picture
in 1969, says he looks for ways to address universal themes
like law and justice, oppression, violence and torture. The
Greek-French directors 1982 Missing, starring
Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek, is about a U.S. journalist who
disappeared in Chile after the countrys 1973 military
Costa-Gavras, 80, became intrigued by the unwritten rules of
international finance after reading French author
Stéphane Osmonts 2004 novel Le capital. His script for
Capital, based on the book, centers on Marc Tourneuil
(Gad Elmaleh), the power-hungry CEO of Frances Phenix
Bank, who finds himself in the middle of a dangerous battle
among management, shareholders and a U.S. hedge fund.
Although Costa-Gavras may not succeed in making his point
clear, the contrast he makes between French capitalism and the
U.S. version is plain: The greedy French seem tempered by labor
unions and family ties, while the Americans are unapologetic
market cowboys. Senior Writer Julie Segal recently talked to
the veteran director at the Mercer hotel in New Yorks
Tell us what prompted you to make this
I wanted to make a movie about money and how money affects a
society and people. How it becomes a religion. Then I
discovered this book by Osmont, who was a financier for years.
Most of the book came from his own experience. But I knew I
would change the ending, which punished its wrongdoers. This
was during the period of the
Lehman Brothers catastrophe, when so many people lost money
and yet no one went to jail. So my movie couldnt have
that resolute ending. The other thing that motivated me is that
during my research I met with bankers, many of whom I already
knew and some whom I only recently met, and they all knew about
the problems with finance and what solutions could be put in
place. But all were practicing something different as business
leaders. Their vision didnt match how they actually
I was also inspired by [Le capitalisme total,] a
book written by [former Crédit Lyonnais chairman Jean
Peyrelevade]. He says that democracies get taken over by
business. The people we elect dont have power. Democracy
is a kind of placebo; it has no effect.
What surprised you the most in your
That these public enterprises really belong to the
stock-holders and they do what stockholders want. If a senior
manager wants to stay king, then he or she needs to make the
kingmakers happy. I was fascinated with that.
Have you thought about any solutions?
Im a filmmaker. Filmmakers dont have solutions.
But that said, there needs to be more
regulation. And even though lawmakers seem to have spent a
lot of time crafting rules, the people I speak to say there
have been few real changes. The French, for example, say,
If we regulate ourselves, the Americans wont
regulate and they will eat us completely. Capitalism is a
system that has to be regulated; otherwise capitalism is
stronger than democracy.
During one scene in the movie, CEO Tourneuil becomes
livid with an old couple, calling pensioners slave drivers. He
goes on to talk about pensioners, the majority of stockholders,
pushing companies to the brink and leading them to make
Yes, in Europe its a drama between young and old. In
Spain, Portugal, Greece and so on, there is 30 to 40 percent
unemployment among young people. There is no future for them;
they instead want to escape to another country to work. But it
all depends on money and who has the money. Do banks use their
money to please the shareholders or to help enterprises make
goods for everybody and create new jobs? Its a battle
between pensioners and young people.
Did you learn things about money that you
didnt know before?
When I started doing movies, we talked about doing good
movies, not what would sell. We didnt need to drive a
Ferrari; we needed a small, efficient car to get us from one
place to another. Twenty-five, 30 years later, its about
money. If you have money, you are respected; if you dont
have money, you are not respected. My films CEO is
obsessed with that respect, and that direction is very
negative. No one is innocent. When you listen to the unions,
they speak about money, not creating a better society. Young
people want to go to university to study money and get rich in
finance. Its a global problem.
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