Capital in the 21st Century


The geometrics of poverty.

(2019) Documentary (Kino-LorberThomas Piketty, Kate Williams, Suresh Naidu, Bryce Edwards, Rana Foroohar, Joseph Stiglitz, Ian Bremmer, Francis Fukuyama, Lucas Chancel, Faiza Shaheen, Paul Mason, Simon Johnson, Paul Piff, Gabriel Zucman, Gillian Tett. Directed by Justin Pemberton

 

Okay. So it’s not exactly news that there is a massive disparity between haves and have-nots in this country, and the middle class – once the backbone of American prosperity – has been shrinking at an alarming rate until, now, it barely exists. In this country, to quote Midnight Oil, the rich get richer, the poor get the picture.

And in case they haven’t, economist Thomas Piketty presents it very clearly for them hear. Base on his bestselling book which may be the biggest selling economics book since Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital, the book and the movie it is based on explains why the rich get richer and how the deck is stacked against the rest of us. It is a moment in time where that has been displayed clearly by the coronavirus; it infects everybody regardless of the size of their bankbook, but the poor, who haven’t been able to afford decent health care, have been hit disparately harder than the wealthy.

Piketty warns that the conditions that gave rise to Marxism are returning again, with a massive concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, social mobility becoming nearly impossible and nationalism and fascism both on the rise. The baby boomers may be the last generation to reasonably expect to have a better life than their parents; it is nearly impossible to do now – unless you are part of the one percent.

Piketty leads a parade of economists, historians and sociologists in interviews that show how the privileged classes manipulated the hearts and minds of the poor, demonizing any sort of program that would actually help them – including breeding a mistrust of education – and creating a stigma over any social program, linking it with the dreaded socialism *shudder* which is, of course, anti-American, right? Welllllllll…

New Zealand-based director Pemberton laces the film with plenty of pop culture references, from a hit song by Lorde to clips from The Grapes of Wrath and Elysium. In one of the more fascinating sequences, UC Irvine professor Paul Piff details an experiment in which two students were randomly selected to play Monopoly. A roll of the dice gave one player the role of the rich player, and the other the poor player. The rich player was given hella advantages, including more cash to begin with, the ability to roll two dice at a time (the poor player could only roll one) and more income every time they passed Go ($200 to the poor player’s $100). An interesting thing happened; the rich players grew arrogant and cocky, attributing success to superior game play rather than the nearly insurmountable advantages they were given. Gordon Gekko opined that greed is good and maybe it is (although evidence says no), but it is certainly ingrained in nearly all of us.

While there are some solutions offered – many of which were put forth by Elizabeth Warren during her Presidential campaign last year – they are unlikely to be enacted by politicians who are largely in the pocket of the super-rich. I would have liked to have seen the same kind of analysis given to the solutions as there was to the problems, which aren’t exactly breaking news. For those who believe that the rich are superior to those who don’t have money, there is the specter of the French Revolution – which is what happens when people have nothing to lose. We are rapidly getting to that point not only here in America but all over the world. Those who refuse to learn from history, after all, are doomed to repeat it, often to their great regret.

The movie is currently available through Kino-Lorber’s virtual cinema program which benefits local art houses. Although the Enzian currently isn’t one of them, Floridians wishing to check out the movie and benefit local art houses have four to choose from; the Tampa Theater in Tampa, the Sun-Ray Cinema in Jacksonville, the Coral Gables Art House in Miami and the Tropic Cinema in Key West. Click on the picture for more information.

REASONS TO SEE: A fairly sober explanation of how we got to where we are.
REASONS TO AVOID: There isn’t a lot of analysis of where we go from here.
FAMILY VALUES: The content is definitely not for the young.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Based on the bestselling non-fiction book by Piketty, which has sold more than three million copies worldwide to date.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/4/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews, Metacritic: 74/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Freakanomics
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
My Darling Vivian

Vincere


Vincere

This is what obsession looks like.

(2009) Biographical Drama (IFC) Filipo Timi, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Corrado Invernizzi, Fausto Russo Alesi, Michaela Cescon, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, Paolo Pierobon, Bruno Cariello, Francesco Picozzo, Simona Nobili, Vanessa Scalera. Directed by Marco Bellochio

 

Benito Mussolini was a dictator and a despot with an ego far greater than the entire country he ruled. His private life was carefully orchestrated so that his image would be pleasing to the predominantly Roman Catholic citizens of Italy as well as to the Church of Rome, with whom he had a political alliance. Having a mistress and a son by that mistress would have been devastating to the way Il Duce was perceived.

But then again, he wasn’t always the jut-jawed figure that his Fascist party spin doctors made him out to be. Once upon a time Mussolini (Timi) was a firebrand, an atheist who advocated the violent overthrow of Italy’s hopelessly corrupt government.

He caught the attention of young Ida Dalser (Mezzogiorno), an idealistic young shopgirl who was initially attracted to Mussolini’s politics and eventually to the young firebrand himself. The two had a passionate and torrid relationship that had Ida giving him her life savings in order to fund a Fascist newspaper which led to financial disaster for her. It also led to her bearing him a son.

However what she didn’t know was that Mussolini was already married, and as his star rose politically, it became expedient for him to cut ties with her. Dalser could have gone quietly into the night and lived a comfortable life as so many women who had gotten involved with charismatic politicians had over the years, but Ida was determined that her son be the heir of Il Duce, so she forced his hand.

She was forcibly committed to an insane asylum where her story that she was married to the Italian leader (a ceremony was performed or so goes the rumor) and had a son by him was met with to say the least skepticism. She continued to try to fight for her son’s place in the Italian hierarchy right up until the very end.

This is a little known story, even in Italy where Dalser’s existence wasn’t even re-discovered (after the Fascist regime essentially buried her from history) until 2005. Veteran Italian director Bellochio (a contemporary of Antonioni, Fellini and Bertolucci, among other great Italian directors of the era) has crafted an interesting biopic that is largely conjecture, based on what little we know about Dalser and extrapolating how things might have happened.

He is fortunate in having Mezzogiorno, one of Italy’s great leading ladies in the pivotal role of Dalser. Mezzogiorno has been compared to Sophia Loren and Marion Cotillard (whom she resembles) and she brings an inner strength that becomes readily apparent. During the first half of the movie, Dalser is almost obsessively in love with Mussolini, submerging all else of her personality and her life for his benefit. During the second, the obsession turns psychotic and you wonder if she really IS insane. Dalser, that is. It’s a bravura performance and one that has been acclaimed all over Europe, but sadly not here where the movie went little-seen.

The movie does take a bit of a tumble during the second half as Mussolini disappears from the film and is seen only in newsreel footage – the real Mussolini, not the actor playing him. While I think that the move to center the movie on Dalser was a logical one, I think it could have used more of the dynamic between the two, even if Mussolini isn’t interacting directly with her. Perhaps that’s what the director was trying to achieve – create an iconic Mussolini who ceases being a man and becomes a demigod which is, at the end of the day, what Il Duce was trying to achieve in life.

This is a mesmerizing movie that ultimately falls short of being great. Mezzogiorno gives a performance that might have been Oscar-worthy in a perfect world, and the assured hand of an experienced director makes the first part riveting material. If only that sure hand hadn’t failed him in the second half.

WHY RENT THIS: Mezzogiorno’s performance is riveting. Interesting use of historical footage

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The end of the movie becomes unfocused. Suffers from disappearance of Mussolini from the narrative.

FAMILY VALUES: There is graphic nudity and sex scenes here, as well as a bit of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Was selected as the #2 best film of 2009 by the respect French journal Les Cahiers du Cinema.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.7M on a $13M production budget; the movie was unprofitable.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Paris 36 (Faubourg 36)


Paris 36 (Faubourg 36)

The stars of Paris 36 take time out for a little dip.

(Sony Classics) Gerard Jugnot, Clovis Cornillac, Kad Merad, Nora Arnezeder, Pierre Richard, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Maxence Perrin, Francois Morel. Directed by Christophe Barratier

Paris in 1936 was a volatile place. The left-wing Popular Front held power and the nation seemed to be swinging towards socialism, but the rise of Hitler in Germany was fueling a fascist faction that was gaining more and more traction, particularly with those who had a lot of money which wasn’t a particularly large number in Depression-era France. It was a good time to be nervous; it was a good time to be in love. It was also a good time to put on a show.

The Chansonia Theatre regularly did just that, although their rent was in arrears to the point where the soulless blackguard of a landlord, Galapiat (Donnadieu) is threatening to seize the theater if he doesn’t receive his rent my midnight. The theater manager does what any good manager does in a situation like that; he shoots himself. The doors of the theater are padlocked and it seems, after all, that the show won’t go on.

The effects of this are devastating on those who work there. For Pigoil (Jugnot), a stagehand who’s given his life for the Chansonia, it means his marriage is over; his wife had been stepping out on him anyway, but out of work, he is unable to support his young son Jojo, a prodigy on the accordion. Jojo is sent to live with his mother, who has since remarried a much wealthier man.

Pigoil is heartbroken. He sees the soul having been ripped away from him, just as it was from the neighborhood when the Chansonia closed. But wait! If Pigoil can put together a show that would fill the tiny, decrepit theater, perhaps the neighborhood would be saved and Pigoil could get his son back. On board with the idea are Jacky (Merad), a man who wore a sandwich board to advertise the theater and who also fancies himself an impressionist. The socialist stagehand (and serial womanizer) Milou (Cornillac) also seizes upon the idea. Galapiat agrees to allow the show to go on – after all, the empty theater is generating no money for him. Then, the three friends discover Douce (Arnezeder), a singer with talent and charisma and they know they have a hit on their hands.

And they do. Douce turns out to be the best thing since Piaf and the theater is packed night after night. Even better, Douce and Milou fall deeply in love. Unfortunately, the rapacious landlord Galapiat has his own plans and they don’t include the happiness of others. Can this plucky troupe fight back and win the day?

This is the kind of movie they’re talking about when they say “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore” which is ironic since the movie proves that they are making ‘em like that anymore – only they’re making ‘em in France. Director Barratier had the Faubourg neighborhood built outside of Prague, streets and all and the set is magnificent. It evokes not only the period, but the place. There is so much rich detail that you can watch this movie several times and not pick up everything.

Jugnot is not what you would call a typical leading man from a Hollywood point of view. Overweight, middle-aged and not particularly handsome, he has a droopy-eyed charm that instantly warms you to him. In the United States, he would never see any sort of role other than comic relief. Thankfully, the French have no such strictures and give him a role that he makes rather memorable.

The structure of the movie recalls the films of that era. From the “let’s put on a show” pluckiness to characters like Monsieur TSF (Richard) who never leaves his room and just listens to jazz on the radio all day but turns out to be a world famous songwriter who is moved to leave his room by the charm of Douce. The musical numbers, particularly the last one, have the optimistic smile-though-your-heart-is-breaking-oh-you-kid quality that you would find in movies of the 30s.

And yet this is not all sunshine and crepes. The character of the landlord is far darker and more brutal than any you might find in movies of the time save for perhaps movies starring Jimmy Cagney and there is underlying darkness and impending tragedy as the war clouds that are swirling on the horizon begin to make themselves be known. This lends a particular poignancy to the film it might not have had otherwise.

My only concern here is that during the middle of the movie it seemed to drag a little bit, and I thought Barratier might have been better served to condense things somewhat. Perhaps that’s just my American-bred attention span (or lack thereof) talking though.

This is a marvelous movie that reminds me of a bygone era that I’m far too young to remember directly but one that I’ve come to know through watching movies of the time. The charm that Paris 36 possesses is the kind that you can’t manufacture with CGI or find with focus groups. This is obviously a labor of love, a tribute to the kind of movie that those who made it adore and respect, and their affection shows through in every frame. It won’t dazzle you but it will melt your cares away, and isn’t that what movies are supposed to be about?

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous period detail and a wonderful performance by Jugnot are buttressed by an Andy Hardy “let’s put on a show” mentality underscored by the darkness of the period.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie could have used some plot condensing.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some nudity and sexuality, as well as a couple of scenes of violence. Probably okay for older teens and mature younger ones.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Monsieur TSF is named after a radio station in Paris that has broadcast jazz music since the era of Paris 36.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: W.

Capitalism: A Love Story


Michael Moore is sounding a call to arms but is anybody listening?

Michael Moore is sounding a call to arms but is anybody listening?

Overture) Michael Moore, Wallace Shawn, William Black, Marcy Kaptur, Elizabeth Warren, Baron Hill, Elijah Cummings, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, Robert Powell, Sarah Palin, John McCain. Directed by Michael Moore

Shortly before the Presidential elections of 2008, the economy of America went through a meltdown. Greedy banks, whose regulatory agencies were hamstrung and de-clawed, had written mortgages that almost guaranteed that the homeowners would default. Even though the FBI had warned of an epidemic of fraudulent loans, nobody paid heed until it was far too late.

Filmmaker Michael Moore is often described as a gadfly, but here he is a crusader, going after the very heart of American wealth – the capitalist system. He skewers it mercilessly on the lance of logic and fact, showing indisputably how the system was set up to maximize the ability of the rich to increase their share of the wealth, and how those who should have been protecting the interests of average Americans were profiting by assisting those fat cats in pillaging our country.

20 years after Roger and Me, Moore again takes on the captains of industry but he has widened his scope. No longer confined to the misery of Flint, Michigan, he shows how the elite of our banking and political institutions have conspired to turn the entire country into Flint. He shows hardworking families being forced to leave their homes because they can no longer afford to pay mortgages at the outrageous interest rates the banks were charging in their Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM).

He shows blue chip companies taking out life insurance policies on their workers so that they might profit should they die unexpectedly – without the knowledge of the families of those workers. He talks to congressmen who were bullied and railroaded into passing the bailout of the banks three weeks before they were up for re-election without giving them time to study the ramifications of these bailouts – and without knowing that the Treasury Secretary had inserted a clause that protected those banks from any sort of oversight or court challenge. That’s your tax dollars at work – paying the bonuses of executives at A.I.G. and Bank of America, and buying luxury private planes for Goldman-Sachs.

He shows how Goldman-Sachs essentially staged a coup d’état after their executives were appointed to key positions in the White House, and then sent out hundreds of billions of tax dollars to preferred corporate recipients.

It’s enough to make you want to pick up a pitchfork and a torch and lead an angry mob to a corporate headquarters. However, Moore also shows instances of people standing up united and defying injustice masquerading as government authority. He shows the Republic Glass and Window Company’s workers refusing to leave the building after being massively laid off and not paid the money due them. They staged a sit-in there in late 2008 and refused to leave until they got the money they were owed. Although some media coverage is shown, quite frankly I don’t remember the story at all.

A few people come off as heroes; Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur from Ohio, who from the House of Representatives floor urged people not to leave their homes if evicted and demand that the evictors show them a copy of their mortgage which they would be unlikely to have. Whistle-blower Bill Black, who helped bring the Charles Keating S&L scandal to light 20 years ago, weighs in on the current crisis as well.

Moore’s sympathies are certainly with the working class, and he tends to focus in on how the crisis is affecting them. He does spend some time with a few middle class folk, but largely it is those who work blue collar jobs that get his attention. Also, as Moore is prone to doing, he grandstands an awful lot, going to various financial institutions trying to make citizens arrests of their CEO’s for fraud, placing crime scene tape around the stock exchange and so on.

Moore has a wicked sense of humor and it comes through in unexpected places. I was laughing out loud at some of his cracks, as well as the judicious editing that juxtaposes ancient Rome with modern America.

This is a serious subject that has rippled through the lives of virtually every American. Some of the material here will make you want to go and string up a few of these arrogant pricks by their genitals. It should be required viewing for every high school senior and college student in order to understand how economics work…or don’t work, to be more to the point.

Moore definitely has an agenda and a political stance, and he makes no bones about it. Right-wingers are going to absolutely hate this movie, especially since he characterizes capitalism as evil and urges that we drop it as an economic system. Capitalism is a sacred cow that we have been brought up to revere as the centerpiece of our American freedoms, and it isn’t lightly that we would consider such an act, but given the abuses that we have seen with our own eyes and are portrayed here, that kind of consideration may just be warranted.

REASONS TO GO: A marvelous indictment of the modern political and economic system in America. Well-reasoned, it explains exactly how we got into this mess and also illustrates very clearly how we can get out of it.

REASONS TO STAY: Those who disagree with Moore’s politics aren’t going to like this at all. While he doesn’t say it overtly, he tacitly advocates socialism over capitalism which might not go over well with the Christian right.

FAMILY VALUES: Some language issues and some difficult adult subjects. Should be required viewing for all high school seniors and college students.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Detroit premiere of the movie was in a theater located in the same building that houses the World Headquarters of General Motors. Moore was initially denied entrance to his own premiere until he came in without cameras or press hours later.

HOME OR THEATER: This has no epic scope other than that it is all about the issues that face every one of us. Conceptually, it should be seen on the big screen but from a sheer viewing standpoint, home video is fine.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day