Le Capital: An Anti-capitalist Masterpiece

1. Motivation and history of the movie

Marxist theorists, beginning with Marx himself, did much to illuminate how capitalism moves, to reveal its laws and demonstrate the necessity of its replacement by socialism, when it becomes a hindrance to historical progress. This criticism was always applied “from outside”, starting from the class position and perspective of the proletariat, the class destined to overthrow the capitalist system, and aimed at orienting the actions of that class towards the directions dictated by the broader social conflicts of each period. In his latest film, Le Capital (Capital), Costas Gavras – Karim Boukercha and Jean-Claude Grumberg also contributed to the screenplay – proceeds to give a catalytic criticism of capitalist globalization from within, a criticism which, though not focusing directly on the social and class struggles of our time, is still, in its way, highly penetrating and effective.

“From within” in no way implies that Gavras contents himself to show the decay and corruption of the world of capital, to write the record of its decline and to highlight its manifestations in the lives of its representatives. All these things certainly abound in his film. Yet had he limited himself to that, it could result to an improved version of soap operas like Dynasty, even making the representatives of capital likable within their degradation. The film is mostly an anatomy of capitalism’s general objective motion, taking an X-ray of the banking and finance system, whose impunity triggered and impels the current global economic crisis. But if Marx had presented the inexorable logic and inevitable results of this movement using the objective language of science, here its reality is refracted through the artistic prism in a realistic representation of the world of its actors, the leaders of modern capitalism.

Gavras is undoubtedly not only an extremely gifted, but, in the best sense of the word, a militant filmmaker whose entire work contributes positively to the understanding of the conflicts and meaning of our times. In Le Capital we can see though the climax of his creativity. Having started from uncovering authoritarianism, anti-democratic aberrations and conspiracies of the holders of power, the engagement of the state with para-state apparatuses, etc. in films like Z and Missing, he ends up here capturing and reconstructing the molecular processes of capitalism which inevitably generate these results. A look at the occasion and history of the film, as recounted recently by the director himself in an interview he gave to the Greek newspaper Vima, ((Yiannis Zoumpoulakis, “Costas Gavras: Hostages of the markets”, Vima, 11/11/2012.)) will better clarify his intentions and motives.

The urge for creating the film came at a presentation of Gavras’s former film The Axe, a film which grotesquely foresaw the consequences of the present crisis by presenting as its hero an unemployed man who kills all his competitors for a job. During that event the mayor of the city where the shootings took place, approached Gavras to confess to him his reflections. He talked about the failure of the authorities to “do something” because “the economy is in the final analysis moving everything”. In the course of the conversation, Gavras’s partner Jean-Claude Grumberg gave a strong reprimand to the mayor, but this talk resulted in attracting the attention of Gavras on the issue he was raising.

Gavras did not confine himself to a narrow intuitive-artistic approach of his subject. He took care to acquaint himself in depth with its real social dimensions, studying some of the best samples of the existing literature. He first read the book Totalitarian Capitalism by the banker Jean Peyrelevade, a firsthand description of how bankers and major shareholders of companies rule the world behind the facade of democracy. As he put it: “This essay showed me a world whose existence I knew before, but did not suspect the range of its dimensions. It was extremely interesting and I wanted to see more closely what determined the adjective “totalitarian”, a nightmarish echo of the word “totalitarianism”, and its adjutants.” ((Yiannis Zoumpoulakis, “Costas Gavras: Hostages of the markets”, Vima, 11/11/2012.)) His next step was to read Stéphane Osmont’s Le Capital, a book written by a former Trotskyite, who became later a senior business manager. This book was destined to give its title and several elements of the film, including the central hero, Marc Tourneuil.

[Spoiler alert — Ed.]

The film’s hypothesis is woven around the story of Tourneuil (played by Gad Elmaleh), a senior officer of Phenix Bank and right hand man of its president, Jack Marmande (Daniel Mesguich). When Marmande discovers he has cancer of the testicles, he appoints him as his successor, believing he will be his docile substitute until he returns to resume his office. The board of directors, on the other hand, headed by the major shareholder Antoine de Suze (Bernard Le Coq), Marmande’s prospective successor, decides to accept Tourneuil, considering that after the impending death of Marmande, they will easily discard him and appoint a new president of their own. Meanwhile Tourneuil aspires to become a real president, who will dictate the rules of the game. Upon taking office, however, he will find himself facing grave challenges, such as the acquisition of a large stake of the bank’s shares by American hedge funds, which demand massive layoffs to increase the profits of investors. Their representative Dittmar Rigule (Gabriel Byrne) will initially support Tourneuil against the old board, his secret aspiration being to force him accept the demand made by the hedge funds on Phenix to buy a collapsing Japanese bank. The speculative investors expect that this will cause the shares of Phenix to collapse, which they will massively buy half-price, obtaining full control of the bank. Then they will naturally remove Tourneuil, who will be immediately evicted if he prevents the merger for non-compliance with the demands of the major shareholders. In short, it is a seemingly total deadlock. However, the hero manages to get out of it, by presenting masterly the layoffs as a “healthy consolidation” of the bank and later by providing underground information to de Suze, who in the meantime has become his implacable enemy, to buy those shares, just before the vultures of hedge funds do so.

Around this central narrative Gavras incorporates a series of inseparable secondary themes: Tourneuil’s private life, as he becomes completely estranged from his family – his wife Diane (Natacha Régnier) and his young son – just to chase money; his passion for Nassim (Liya Kebede), a top model and prostitute whom the American investors apparently are trying to peddle on him in order to trap him; the invasion at the scene of Maud (Céline Sallette), an honest, hardworking and charming Phenix functionary, who will play an important role during the period of the disastrous merger with the Japanese bank.

2. Why is Le Capital a top movie?

Clearly, the screenplay is completely realistic and echoes real conditions in the banking system. Yet, is a story like that enough to turn a movie to a masterpiece and a landmark in its genre?

Some commentators, while recognizing its value and Gavras’s virtuosity, tend to answer that question in the negative. In order to better highlight its merits, which require us to give the opposite answer, we will start with two such Greek reviews: one denying that Le Capital brings something radically distinct and another which, while having a feeling that there is indeed something special in this film, is unable to clarify it and stops halfway.

The first view is put forward in a constructive way by George Krassakopoulos: “Maybe in days when nobody shares illusions about the role of banks or their bosses, ‘Le Capital’ does not really say anything new or revelatory, but Gavras’s cinema is as always perfectly laid out, satisfactory, necessary.” ((George Krassakopoulos, “Toronto 2012, ‘Le Capital’: Costas Gavras against the banks!”))

Krassakopoulos speaks about the movie with the greatest respect, yet we think his objection misses the target. Surely everyone may have an idea today about the role of the banks, but this by no means proves that a film talking about this subject cannot by definition be epoch-making. If that was the criterion of value of a work of art, then no masterpiece would ever be created, as all works of art appear pretty much when reality itself has raised the issues that stimulate and inspire their production.

Certainly artistic creation can take place a little earlier or a little later, but this is neither accidental, nor can be the decisive criterion for its evaluation. As Hyndman had ascertained in his time, referring to Marx, the objective reality which becomes an object of knowledge – and we are talking about knowledge in its broadest sense, including not only scientific but also artistic representation – can be illuminated with a three penny candle, but can also be illuminated with an electric torch. ((See the comparison drawn by Hyndman between Marx and Henry George, in The Record of an Adventurous Life. Hyndman’s precise formulation reads: “George was a boy with a bright farthing dip fooling around within the radius of a man using an electric search-light”.)) It is the position in this scale, in connection, of course, with its timeliness, which really determines the value of a work of art. To fail to investigate it, even if it is done with the best intentions, as in the case of Krassakopoulos, means in fact, for some inexplicable reason, to condemn ourselves to intellectual laziness.

The second review, coming from an anonymous critic in a juvenile website, gives us some important hints to move further towards a genuine assessment. We will quote it in full, since it raises some significant issues, summarizing the spirit of the younger generation in their attempts to find an edge in the grim reality of the crisis, against finance domination and promiscuity:

Maybe due to the difficulty of understanding, I never finished Marx’s ‘Capital’, but I at least absorbed that of Gavras… ‘We collect money from the poor who are many, to give it to the rich who are a few’, states the hero of the film with unprecedented cynicism, a ruthless executive of the financial world.

During the premiere in Danaos cinema, 14 January 2013, we attended the total “death” of morality against a capitalism that the more it breaks down, the more furious it becomes. “Bankers are like children playing”, is observed in Le Capital. But their game is reminiscent of one between hungry cannibals. Their hunger for domination through money is insatiable and has victims. “2,000 Euros the salary of each employee of a multinational company, multiplied by 12 months, multiplied by 10,000 employees in all countries to be fired, the costs of the company would be reduced, with a 240,000,000 Euros rise for the annual profit of its directors”. Marc, the ambitious banker and otherwise happy family man in the movie, is playing this game with numbers. These things happen, just like that, in a system where some see other people as numbers…

Marc’s wife, in her inevitable loneliness, may be trying to convince him that she does not need to have all his money, but him, in order to love him; his teen son may be immersed in his own world, not even raising a head from the computer game to thank him when he presents him with a high withdrawal limit credit card; his relatives, numb and embarrassed, may face him now as alien and hostile, but he insists on believing money gain him respect…

“Luxury is a right” says the slogan on a gaudy banner of a cosmopolitan party, where Marc participates, amidst unrivalled opulence.

So, the rich have rights, too! Yes, they require to play even today, in the “time of crisis”, with villas, pools, private jets, expensive cars, luxurious meals, fancy dresses and highly priced top models… Just like the ones Costas Gavras presents us in his film to show that, for the world of the rich, there will be no reason to ever stop this hideous game… The rest of us may feel disgust and anger, but we keep watching… Or at least, since we could not do otherwise, we are allowing those who rule us to support its terms.” ((“Le Capital” by Costas Gavras. ))

We will be lenient with the inability of the critic to read and understand all of Marx’s Capital; indeed the present writer encountered just the same problem in his efforts. The essence of the question is that what Marx systematically exposes in the bulky volume of his Capital, Gavras condenses in a different way within the two hours of the film. We will risk, then, one aphorism: “The better one understands Marx’s Capital, the better he will be able to understand and absorb Gavras’s Le Capital”.

Undoubtedly, Gavras’s film reveals and presents vividly and convincingly all elements mentioned by the above critic: the complete lack of moral barriers and unscrupulous character of bankers and other modern magnates of capital, their raising of money to the sole and ultimate value, the emptiness of their world. And of course, in doing so, it also shows how this lifeless world of wealth dominates and oppresses the entire society. This is the starting point and the most visible content of Le Capital. It was summarized by the director himself in his Vima interview:

“For a long time, not only in Greece but in the whole world, we have become hostages of our engagement with the markets and the global economic situation”, says director Costas Gavras. “The Stock Exchange, though an invisible entity, is as real as a very sick person you need to take care of, comfort and give joy in order to get better. I feel that day by day the world wakes up in the morning and asks: “What can we do to satisfy the international markets so as to show stability and growth?”… They live by the disease, it is their “job”, without of course directing its course. The present economic situation consents with the wild manners of an oligarchy: their arrogance, whims, greed, voracity.” ((Yiannis Zoumpoulakis, “Costas Gavras: Hostages of the markets”, Vima, 11/11/2012.))

The question, however, arises: are these the only things Gavras has to say in his film? If such was the case, then it would indeed be a simply remarkable film, of humanist viewpoint and aspirations, but not more. Such a film would be limited to the description of a sick situation, a description additionally general and static, which would tell us nothing about its “before” and “after”. Truly great art, however, cannot simply restrict itself to a simple recording of a problem. It must contribute – understandably with its artistic means and ways – to its diagnosis and treatment, especially when it is a universal malady such as we are facing today. And that, in the case of art, does not mean making political statements, but being able to embrace the whole wealth of real life, in order to stimulate the public to draw itself, through a personal creative process, the necessary conclusions.

Gavras performs this authentic artistic task with rare efficiency. Proceeding from the above starting point, he methodically develops the body and knits around it the stems and flowers that make up the tree of modern capitalist reality and its present juncture. But in doing so, he manages to highlight, not by some external, artificial means, but through the life of the object, that his object is a peculiar tree. It is a tree of death that dries everything around it to maintain for itself a semblance of life and grow into an ever greater monstrosity.

The creator declares this with absolute clarity in the already mentioned Vima interview, when he compares the world markets with a Russian doll, differing from the normal ones in the following special property: that, as you go inwards, the size of the next dolls grows rather than diminish: “The higher spheres of Stock Exchange have the structure of a Russian doll. Only in this case the dolls enclosed tend to contain everything which surrounded them before. The order is reversed and the one we find every time eliminates the previous one because of the larger size it gets in front of our astonished eyes: look!” ((Yiannis Zoumpoulakis, “Costas Gavras: Hostages of the markets”, Vima, 11/11/2012.))

This has a clear meaning: as you move towards the core of the system, the flowers of evil you meet at the periphery, do not become scarcer but magnify – so the outer layers should be seen as a consistent development of the inner nature of the system and only through representing their specific, necessary connection with that inner nature they can really be understood. It is here, in its ability to accurately trace the historically necessary connections that the real virtues of Gavras’s film start. And in doing so, he retakes in the field of cinema the traditions of progressive and critical realism analyzed with regard to the great bourgeois literature by Lukacs, reviving a series of its key motifs and themes.

3. Marc Tourneuil: the hero of capital

The virtues of Le Capital are summarized and crystallized in the conception of Marc Tourneuil, the central protagonist. If we would wish to compare him with a familiar personality, it might be Mario Monti, the banker prime minister of the technocratic government in Italy. He is the type of the banks executive who in one way or another transcends his narrow economic role, to handle the situation in a time of crisis. However, Gavras’s hero is endowed with so unusual, unique and extremely contradictory traits, that it becomes questionable whether he can be compared to any real person.

Tourneuil, as featured in the film, is a man of popular origin. His parents and other relatives are ordinary people who, when he visits them after taking office, ask him how he spends all that money. He inwardly hates the bourgeois world and its bankers and other representatives with whom he is forced to socialize. During the film we see him imagining that he beats fiercely his woman’s parents who are annoying him with their parvenu behavior and covet with his money, Marmande’s unbearable daughter Claude and Dittmar, the speculators’ obnoxious representative. He is also in his everyday moments a normal, sane person, differing positively from his petty and cocky colleagues.

On the other hand, his passion for money and power knows no bounds, so that, in his effort to remain president, he will reach and surpass the cynicism and cruelty even of his worst rivals, whom he detests. This passion, and the vicious circle in which it involves him, are graphically expressed in the hero’s dialogue with his wife when she asks him if he enjoys the respect of shareholders: “- I do not give a damn for their respect. — Then, what do you wish? — Money. — Money, why? — So that they will respect me”. He justifies his claim to receive a €10 million bonus when Phenix shares are sold, asking his wife who wonders why he wants all that money: “Is there anything else?” He is right that in the world of markets there is nothing else but he is wrong to claim that this world should be the permanent measure and standard for human society.

Could such a type appear in real life and fulfill a role similar to that of the hero in the movie? That would be highly unlikely, if not completely impossible. Yet, this not only doesn’t annul the value of Gavras’s film but comes to highlight it even further. This is because his hero synthesizes in himself parts of human types we observe around us, exactly in the way that will make him capable to implement the special, almost unrealizable role assigned to him in the movie, so as to reveal the nature and role of the various competing forces in the world of markets.

Lukacs has often posed in his work this issue, which has to do essentially with the typicality of an artistic representation. Referring to the two great French realists, Balzac and Stendhal, he noted: “Both of them consider their main work to illustrate the major types of social evolution, but their perception of what is typical bears no resemblance to the perception of subsequent realists of Western Europe, who wrote after 1848 and confound the typical representative with the average. Balzac and Stendhal consider only those figures typical, which possess extraordinary properties, reflecting all the essential aspects of a certain stage of development, an evolutionary trend or a social group.” ((Georg Lukacs, Studies on European Realism, Athens 1957, p. 97.)) Tourneuil’s extraordinary and highly unequal traits are conceived by Gavras in such a way, so as to reflect the totality of what the banking-financial system is, in its extreme conflict with the actual social needs of our times.

This superiority of Tourneuil, his status as the most universal representative of the established order, with all that it entails, is what will ultimately allow him to prevail against all competitors. In a superficial examination, he might seem to differ from others only in intelligence, perhaps not even in that, at least when compared with Dittmar, the crude and cynical representative of the hedge funds. Tourneuil sides decisively with Dittmar when the issue of layoffs is discussed in the board: while the old, “outdated” executives devise various plans to restrict dismissals at 6 or 7,000, which would raise the rate of profit for shareholders to a mere 15%, Tourneuil adopts the target of 10,000 layoffs which will raise profits above 20%, the minimum the vultures are considering as satisfactory. But while with Dittmar this position arises from his role as a mouthpiece of the hedge funds, who despite his ruthless astuteness is functioning basically with the automation of lackey, with the hero, the same attitude is a product of a superior understanding of the situation. He realizes that real power lies with hedge funds and that if he wants to stay in place and gain time, he must side with the speculators’ appetites, although they ultimately aim to remove and replace him with a confident and loyal minion. Even greater is his superiority toward the old-fashioned competitors of the executive board, who initially covet his position, but are gradually squeezed to the corner and forced to acknowledge his power.

Tourneuil blames at one point Claude, Marmande’s daughter, irritated by the way she sees the issue of layoffs “as a game of golf”, when it is in fact a human massacre. Nevertheless, he not only adopts the basis of her logic, but handles the issue in the most ruthless way, claiming a personal bonus of €3,000 from the savings resulting for each layoff, his argument being that he is the one who bears the moral cost of the layoffs as president of the company. Dittmar considers his claims reasonable, while some members of the board who, due to their links with the government, favor a more moderate policy and hesitate to follow him to the end, including de Suze, are removed from their posts. Eventually, layoffs will exceed 11,000, a thousand more than the original target set by the hedge funds.

At the end, it turns out that even in his relations with his wife, the hero cannot be human. From the moment he chooses to keep at all costs the president’s post, there are proper formalities that must be followed. Even if she does not want it, she must wear at receptions outrageously expensive dresses made by Dior, since otherwise she wouldn’t be a proper “president’s wife”. A divergence peaking just before the final act of the drama, when she tells him she will wait for him if he is put in jail, but will divorce him if he remains president.

4. Markets against society

The actual identification of the hero with the aspirations of the most extreme speculators is central to the overall architecture of the movie. It grounds the general conclusion which emerges in the final scene, that there is no conciliatory solution to the crisis, a solution to the common benefit of all, bankers and people. Tourneuil’s choice serves to deny as illusions all hopes of that kind, since it is clear that if there was really a mutually beneficial and acceptable solution, he would not fail to discover it, with his rare intelligence. His intelligence however serves only to disguise the fulfillment of the speculators’ desires as a sanitary action which will supposedly open bright new future horizons, persuading a part of the bank’s lower staff about this and his supposedly good intentions.

Gavras stands here again firmly on the terrain of historical realism, against all embellishment of reality, against all futile wandering towards meaningless utopian fantasies. A logic of that kind is rightly detected by Lukacs even in a progressive anti-fascist writer like Stefan Zweig who, in his Erasmus, reflecting on the personality of Erasmus, expressed some general thoughts about the possibility, almost always, of a peaceful resolution of social conflict. According to Zweig, as quoted by Lukacs, Erasmus “believed that almost all conflicts between men and peoples could be solved without violence through mutual willingness to yield, because they all lay within the domain of the human; almost every antagonism could be fought out by means of comparison, were it not for those who were always ready to stretch the warlike bow too far.” ((Georg Lukacs, The Historical Novel, London 1989, p. 268.))

It cannot be our purpose here to consider whether Erasmus indeed shared this belief and whether it was justified in his time: certainly in earlier phases of capitalism – but not in the period of the bourgeois struggle against feudalism – when the capitalist system had more room for making concessions, this logic had some elements of historical validity. But it is the great merit of “Le Capital” to show that in the specific conflict of our times there is no longer any room for compromise. The capitalist system has now exhausted its scope for positive reforms and concessions, so that it is a conflict which will be fought to the very end, to a decisive outcome in favor of the one or the other side, the representatives of the world of finance or its victims.

These elements are shown with maximum clarity during Tourneuil’s visit to his family home, when he faces his left-wing uncle. Tourneuil started his presidential tenure in Phenix creating the image of a reformer. In a speech attended for the first time directly by the 100,000 employees of its worldwide branches, whose faces appear on a giant screen, he announces his intention to put an end to the arbitrariness of senior management. Causing embarrassment to attending bank officers, he adds that all employees will be asked to fill a questionnaire, in which they will freely express their grievances about wrongs in the bank, condemning cliques, despotism and sexual harassment. In actual fact, this is nothing but a cynical, Machiavellian facade, beneath which he is promoting the interests of speculators. But it ensures him the favor of the media, where he immediately gains the reputation of an innovative, radical leader. Even workers are misled by his rhetoric in the meeting and we watch them on the giant screen bursting into an enthusiastic applause.

But Tourneuil’s aged left-wing uncle is not lured by that facade. During their talk, he attacks him with rough words. “The bank has profits and you are firing people”, he poses the question. When Tourneuil fails to answer it, he exposes harshly and explicitly the true content of his deeds: “You are bleeding the world thrice. The markets want blood. You fuck people with layoffs… you fuck them with loans and debt… Money rots everything. I was expecting something better from you”.

A dialogue develops where Tourneuil tries to fight back by presenting the frenetic globalization of markets as a necessity. He speaks about a fulfillment of internationalism by the capitalist system, invoking the production of the toys he has brought for the family’s children in Korea and other countries. He contrasts this to the internationalism of the left which failed to materialize, an indirect reference to the collapse of the USSR. “Didn’t you leftists aspire for internationalism?” His uncle objects that children in the third world produce these toys working under sweat shop conditions. Not having anything to answer, he leaves the company, but admits while leaving to his father who accompanies him and criticizes his uncle for his rudeness: “Uncle is right, Dad”.

The uncle’s character and the above dialogue summarize in a few dense, simple but very powerful sentences the existence and the standpoint of the other world, the world of ordinary people, who is otherwise absent from the movie. We do not watch, e.g., at any point something about contemporary movements against globalization, the great revolutions that shook the Arab world, mass protests against American interventions around the globe.

At first sight, this might seem as a weakness, an indication that the other world, the people’s world, fails to acquire in the film a reality and representation proportional to its actual weight. In fact what we have here is again a deeply realist approach: the world of markets is a world closed into itself, only regionally and momentarily coming, if it comes at all, into contact with the world of everyday people. So Gavras, talking to us about it and wandering through it, is showing in this way the minimal importance the rest of humanity has for the markets. That is why while outwardly Le Capital is a less directly political film than older movies of Gavras like Z, where the struggles and movements of the left got an open, central presence, it has actually a deeper radical political content.

On the other hand, the dialogue with his uncle also serves another need, to elucidate Tourneuil’s motivation and internal logic, which push him on his ruthless path. In its course, it transpires that he was too attracted in the past, to some degree or other, by the left visions of a different, human world and that he keeps a memory of those visions. (This impression is reinforced by references during the film to a book of Mao, read by his wife). His answers to his uncle are thus simultaneously acting as an excuse for the abandonment of his ideals, for selecting the easy road of becoming part of the system instead of fighting to change it. Insofar as Osmont’s book, on which the film was based, is autobiographical, one can assume that it is a confession of his own personal journey. However Gavras succeeds to integrate this dimension in the movie through the motion of his own hero, who may have some points in common with the one of the novel, but also has his own personality.

5. The historical realism of Gavras

This aspect of the movie raises an important methodological issue of great realism, which Lukacs also detects when he contrasts the classic bourgeois realism of the 18th and 19th centuries to that of the interwar period of the thirties. It is the ability of truly great art not only to start from the present as it is, but also present it as the result of a previous motion, which explains and grounds largely current behaviors.

“The old, classical historical novel”, writes Lukacs, “was historical because it provided a concrete prehistory of the present. It portrayed the evolution of the people through the crises of the past up to the present. The historical novel of the present-day humanists is also closely related to the present… But it has not yet produced a concrete prehistory of the present, merely the historical reflections of present-day problems in history, an abstract prehistory of problems preoccupying the present. Hence the accidental character of the subject-matter, hence the starting out from idea, reflection or problem rather than from actual life.” ((Georg Lukacs, The Historical Novel, p. 296.))

The weakness noted here by Lukacs permeates much of the progressive art of our times. Even in a top anti-capitalist movie like Carpenter’s They Live, the hero, perhaps inevitably for a science fiction movie, appears as a “pure” incarnation of the working class. He is an abstract worker without almost anything personal. The result, not so much in that film as in others, is an abstract sociological approach and didacticism. Fortunately, Gavras’s film does not suffer at all from such defects. Everything in it follows its natural course, arising from the nature of the heroes and of the reality in which they move, without any external, artificial interference. It makes one wonder, then, that an anonymous commentator considers Le Capital as a “classic French academic cinema” ((“Capital”.)) – in fact there is not even a trace of academism in the movie.

But there is a real question implied, although formulated very poorly and in a confounding way, in this judgment. By presenting the world of markets as he does, totally black, isn’t Gavras demonizing it? Isn’t there something positive in it, something that should be separated from the overall black picture?

In fact, contrary to any such impression, Gavras’s technique does not give in to easy, absolute and extreme counterpositions of a Manichean type. The organization of the economy, the wonders of technology, etc., which globalization massively produces are permanently present in the movie’s scenes, from the live meeting with the officials of the bank to Tourneuil’s daily contacts with other bank officers, who appear regularly on the screen in his office. The world of markets is presented exactly as it is, with all its splendor and glory. Gavras however shows at the same time that all these miracles are decisively in the service of the bank’s central target, the goal of reproducing capitalism and profits. Their use cannot be creative, because it is completely subservient to a reactionary cause. The new robotic programs, e.g., which automatically perform 40% of the bank’s accounting calculations, do not serve to facilitate the work of the employees, but to throw even more into unemployment and make it more easy for the bank to engage in tax evasion. Tourneuil even asks an interlocutor of his with keen interest about the prospects of layoffs of 25 or 35% opened by these new programs, as compared to the poor 10% just realized by the bank.

Tourneuil himself, of course, due to his superior understanding as compared with the average bourgeois representatives, is continually faced with the fundamental conflict between the selfish goals served by his actions and the whole functioning of the banking system, markets, etc., and real social needs. This conflict is highlighted in many parts of the film, but in the most dramatic way during the scene when Tourneuil leaves his family house, when he passes outside of the children’s room, where a dozen of his relatives’ children are playing with the new tech electronic toys he has brought them. What he sees is a sad, creepy picture with each child fully committed to the screen of his own toy, as if there were no other children around. Not one trace of socialization, not even a trace of contact between them. Can there be a greater condemnation of a system from this image of the future? The capitalist system ensures that it will not only befuddle the current, but also the future generations. Yet Tourneuil passes by without saying anything. Everything he might say would be a condemnation of the markets, of the world he has consciously chosen to belong.

The fate of children in the third world, who are packed in slums in order to produce these games proves thus inseparably tied to that of children in the capitalist world, who become their passive consumers, and even of the hero’s own son, who does not raise his head from his advanced computer. But it is also clear from which side of this closed circuit of universal human alienation the act of resistance can occur. To remember the young Marx:

The propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human self-estrangement. But the former class feels at ease and strengthened in this self-estrangement, it recognizes estrangement as its own power and has in it the semblance of a human existence. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated in estrangement; it sees in it its own powerlessness and the reality of an inhuman existence. It is, to use an expression of Hegel, in its abasement the indignation at that abasement, an indignation to which it is necessarily driven by the contradiction between its human nature and its condition of life, which is the outright, resolute and comprehensive negation of that nature. Within this antithesis the private property-owner is therefore the conservative side, the proletarian the destructive side. From the former arises the action of preserving the antithesis, from the latter the action of annihilating it. ((?. Marx and F. Engels, The Holy Family.))

In the faithful representation of this fundamental polarity exactly as is, as a product of the past and as a starting point for a darker future, if it is not disturbed in a revolutionary way, lies the deep historical realism of Gavras.

6. A war of all against all

While Gavras depicts the universal human and social alienation, he rightly focuses his attention on its source, the “war of all against all” that permeates competitive markets. It is a world totally lacking in any real link and unity, where alliances are created only when a dangerous competitor appears and must be devoured.

The universal principle of this world, the pursuit of money and profit, is uniquely formulated by Dittmar when he calls Tourneuil to enter the hedge funds group, from which, even if he does, he will be evicted at the first suitable opportunity: “We are your only friends. We took debts upon us and expect immediate returns, which may not be less than 20%. Shareholders should know where their money is. We are chasing together and we want you in the team. We are awaiting your reply”.

But even the more traditionally minded bankers in the Phenix board, although being subjectively not exactly of the same stuff with the “purebred” speculators, are not substantially different in any way in their actual behaviors. Any differences between them, being of secondary nature themselves, vanish once the competition with the speculators starts. Capitalism and the pursuit of profits eliminate every subjective or partial difference, ultimately imposing their norms everywhere.

The same extreme competitive spirit distinguishes Tourneuil’s relationships with his “partners” in the board of the bank. Behind the feigned cordiality of typical everyday contacts, mutual hostility and suspicion appear on each and every step, a product of the effort made by everyone to sideline the others. Of the ten other members in the board it is doubtful whether Tourneuil can trust one, as revealed when he secretly meditates at a meeting on the qualities of each one of them.

The complete lack of authenticity in their relationships, becomes evident at the funeral of the former president, where the falseness of the ceremony’s speeches on the contributions and visions of the deceased and of mutual condolences is literally eye-popping. “He thought of his partners as his children, the family spirit he had created…” says de Suze in his farewell. Yet, the same de Suze, at the time when Marmande was admitted to the hospital, was impatient to see him bite the dust as soon as possible: “Let us take Tourneuil and trust the cancer’s metastases. He is a good boy and he will obey. Then we will bury the apprentice and his master”. It suffices to compare these words in order to understand the complete lack of even a grain of truth in his litanies when it comes to the actual burial.

The only moment when we see the bank’s directors temporarily unite is when the danger on the part of the American speculators appears and they are traveling to meet them in Miami. “You will meet the people who want to swallow us; with a little luck we will swallow them”, Tourneuil announces the news to the others, summing up in one sentence the true meaning of the infamous “mergers”. But again this is only while they are trying to devour the others, without stopping their own mutual devouring. Shortly before that, and always with the same cynicism of fine words with which they top all their actions, we attend the bank’s efforts to swallow small businesses, in a game where the big fish eats the small one, and the small one eats the even smaller. This absolute law of the markets forces board members to finally admit the superiority of the American shareholders during their return. When others complain about their intentions to engage in massive layoffs, calling this “cowboy capitalism” and buy Phenix with its own money and then drive them out, Tourneuil replies: “I’m hearing your proposals against cowboy capitalism”. To this, the others can find no answer.

7. The new within the old

The complexities of capitalist reality, which does not follow directly and completely at every step but only in the final analysis this model, are highlighted in the plot with Maud’s interference, her meetings with Tourneuil and episodes associated with it. Maud is one of the most productive senior bank executives dealing with Asian affairs. So she inevitably comes to the fore when the issue of the merger with Mitsuko, the Japanese bank, is posed and Phenix has to investigate its solvency. Maud impresses Tourneuil with her knowledge of the Asian economies and her whole personality, but she is also impressed by him, the different methods and spirit she discerns in him compared to the previous administration.

In the course of her investigation Maud discovers evidence, which she presents to Tourneuil, that Mitsuko is virtually bankrupt and that any takeover would be disastrous for Phenix. When it becomes clear that the speculators, who dominate Phenix, insist nonetheless on the merger, in order to speculate essentially with the share of their own bank, and that he cannot reverse the decision, Tourneuil makes Maud a tentative proposal: to take a leave from the presidency and utilize her help in writing a book about what is going on in the bank system. Maud responds encouragingly: “You will be a hero for many and for too long”.

Tourneuil, however, decides to proceed with the takeover, figuring that he will circumvent the hedge funds. He agrees with Dittmar the details which provide for an overall €10 million benefit for him from the sale. But at the same time he is giving underground information to de Suze through Rafael, his only but already expelled friend in the board, to buy those shares before the price drops to the level the Americans intend to strike. He agrees with De Suze that his own benefit from the sale will be 25 million and promises he will resign the presidency, paving the way for him. Despite Tourneuil’s doubts that he might deceive him, de Suze buys timely, leaving the Americans in cold water. Meanwhile, Maud resigns her position and does not appear in the bank during the next days.

Tourneuil is such a contradictory personality, that his motives remain for a long time partly unclear even to himself, let alone to others around him. While he is in fact acting as the chief representative of the system, he manages to maintain illusions, to others and to himself, that he is somehow qualitatively different from its other representatives. So, when after the takeover takes place he resigns from presidency, Maud misunderstands the motives of his act considering it as a break with the banking establishment. She appears again to offer him her help in denouncing abuses.

However, Tourneuil’s real motives for offering his resignation are completely different. While having defeated the American hedge funds, Tourneuil has used illegitimate means, giving underground information about the movements of the bank. This could cost him, if there is a complaint, ten years of prison for “unfair trading”. In a stormy session he presents his cards to the speculators, telling them that the fraud of the Mitsuko merger was started by them and that if he is exposed they will accompany him in his cell. The Americans are forced to retreat after their proposal to increase his bonus is rejected.

Nevertheless, Tourneuil’s position remains precarious against the other board members, who have knowledge of the illegality and still aim for the presidency. His resignation, therefore, is necessary in order to make them renew their trust in him. Tourneuil believes correctly that at this moment they will not dare move against him, as his actions, although illegal, have served the interests of the bank and the government in the best possible way. The almost certain renewal of the board’s confidence after his resignation, ensures that its members will not be able to move against him in the future, after having approved his actions that way.

Maud’s discussion with Tourneuil overturns her illusions. Maud unsuspectingly expresses her admiration for his courage to resign and offers her help to write the book. “We will talk about the dictatorship of the markets… about speculation… about the democracies that cannot get rid of speculators and obey”, she says fervently.

Tourneuil brings her down abruptly. He says that she is misled by her youthful enthusiasm and that he does not intend to quit his position. He presents submission as something inevitable, since the profit game may be “unjust, cruel, but is worldwide”. As for the people, who are destroyed in the course of this game, he has a ready answer. When Maud asks: “And those who lose their jobs and their lives for the shareholders to be able to profit, are they playing?” he replies: “Every game has winners and losers. The winners can lose and losers can win: that’s the beauty of the game”. The fact that those who lose are millions, while those who win are counted on the fingers of one hand, is of no significance to him. “You say that I’m young, but you grew old prematurely”, Maud silences him.

Thus, Tourneuil’s triumph does not mean something else than the destruction of ordinary people who are losing their jobs and the destruction of or compliance with his aspirations of his antagonists in the market system, but without even minimally infringing the principles and speculative nature of the system. But –and here we see how much afar stays Gavras from a Manichean absoluteness– this does not lead to a vulgar identification of everything; instead Gavras captures both nuances and substantive differences. He presents, and quite correctly, all executive board members, with the partial exception of Raphael, as corrupt pawns of capital. Yet he does not extend this consideration everywhere.

Maud belongs to the high echelons of the banking system as well and feels herself a part of it, but she is nonetheless subjectively honest and resists corruption. Her opposition to it may start initially from an inevitably overall misguided view, e.g. an advocacy of healthy market rules or of the legitimate interests of the bank. During her first conversation with Tourneuil she expresses a willingness to even justify layoffs if he can give her a convincing explanation. But Maud differs from all others in that she takes seriously her ideas and does not turn them into fig leaves for lawlessness. This subjective difference leads to an objective differentiation, her choice to reveal the speculators’ frauds. Even at this second stage she may still retain very strong illusions in her conception of the situation, that publicity will perhaps correct the wrongs, as she is also misguided in her views about Tourneuil. However, insistence on her principles and prospects, will eventually make her understand that this is not a sick side of an otherwise healthy world, but the whole system is rotten. Here, as throughout the whole film, Gavras takes a completely realistic historical approach, making the heroine draw the necessary conclusion through following the actual course of personal development that will make her able to draw it, and not submitting it as a ready made position which she is forced to mechanically accept. ((Lukacs notes and analyzes the problems of that essentially propagandistic approach, when he comments some valuable otherwise novels by Gustav Regler and Bruno Frank, ibid, p. 296-97.))

Maud represents in fact, at a molecular level, the positive, creative forces within bourgeois society, which never vanish to the end of total extinction. These are the forces that at a former historical period made possible such eminent personalities like John and Robert Kennedy and in our times gave rise to Hugo Chavez and to modern movements of Enlightenment, as those represented by such great natural scientists like Hawking and Dawkins. Maud’s course in the movie furnishes a proof that real honesty, even if starting within the system, must at a certain point lead to a break with it.

The story with Nassim, the sensational and startling top model, leads through another path to the exactly same conclusion, if not Nassim herself, at least the average viewer of the film. Nassim, whom Tourneuil meets first time on the yacht of the speculators who took control of the bank, becomes to him an obsession. For a moment we are led to think that a Strauss-Kahn type scenery is about to be created, as Tourneuil, carried away by his passion for her and acting recklessly, exposes himself to the danger of a future scandal, the more so since the suspicion is hovering that Nassim acts in the service of the speculators. Eventually, the protagonist will avoid all pitfalls, by raping Nassim in his personal limousine instead of following her at a suspicious party, as she had proposed.

Their dialogue after her rape is revealing. “This is all you wanted, just a little fuck?” asks Nassim. Frustrated, she reveals that she intended to return him the one million check he had given her in response to a request of hers, perhaps because his interest in her made her expect something more serious. “I’d return you the million, but now I guess we’re even”, Nassim prices the value of her rape. “You do not owe it to me, you owe it to New York Phenix”, he replies sarcastically.

Although we do not learn for sure whether Nassim was actually in the service of the speculators –for a high price, of course– obviously this is not of much importance. In her own life, a life addicted to the use of drugs, all sorts of excesses, etc., it transpires that there is no path leading out of the system’s grindstones. Her “little fuck” by Tourneuil is simply a case of the endless big and smaller “fucks” that destroy the existence and dignity of countless human beings under capitalism.

8. Why does Tourneuil prevail?

It can’t be our purpose here to comment on all episodes and scenes of Le Capital, nor extend to assessments by various critics, raising a number of further issues. Regarding the later, we will just point that they move between the ends of a supercilious acceptance, which thinks it has already gone beyond the issues raised in the movie while in fact has not even grasped them, and serious approaches that honestly try to deepen in its central idea and its various secondary aspects.

A typical example of the first category is a review by Sandra Suárez. This columnist notes that the film has some powerful dialogues and scenes, yet she is of the opinion that the characters, while well interpreted by the actors, “cause no great interest”. Moreover, “there is no clear evolution” or tying of the case to the argument. She sums up her view stating that it is all about “diners, sex, drugs” and “entirely predictable.” ((Sandra Suárez, “‘El capital’, una vez más, el dinero”.))

All these could of course very well be true, yet they are presented as something self-evident and we are left completely in the dark why it should be so. Without elaborating further, let us only note that this kind of seemingly radical but basically reactionary criticism often stems from a subjectivist-individualistic, Nietzschean type perspective. Its bearers are flattered to think that there is something higher than reality itself, and that the highest art is one which leads us to these “outside of reality” heights. Basically it is the same individualist logic with which the leaders of the system are defending the established order, but here an effort is made to show it can serve as the basis for a supposedly even more radical criticism of the system then the one starting from the actual, while it is completely inappropriate for that task.

Those who actively and wholly follow this logic are in fact the small, prospective Tourneuils of society. To them belong all sorts of utilitarians, conformists, chameleons, mandarins and opportunists who operate around the markets and governments seeking to profit from the destruction of others. They are the ones who make possible Tourneuil’s rise and are manning the Front National, Golden Dawn and other pro-Nazi organizations today and who tomorrow, when Tourneuil will prove insufficient to reconcile conflicts, will unhesitatingly bring a Hitler to the stage. Yet in Tourneuil himself the same logic appears in a concentrated form and is decisively put at every step in the service of capital. It is here we understand that, far from being an invented personality, the protagonist of Gavras is perfectly representative, because he classically summarizes bourgeois parasitic existence in our times.

A much better but still inadequate assessment is given by Fotini Simou. Simou centers to Tourneuil’s role as an embodiment of the system, but while making a real step towards understanding it, she fails to complete it. Noting that “Gavras resorts to the easy pattern of an evil banker to express his anti-capitalist political views, which are known from the past” – a rather unfair introduction to the concept of the movie– she nevertheless does some justice to the result:

The director helps us to penetrate deeply into the psyche of the hero and also takes us to the heart of the global financial problem… Marc Tourneuil’s behavior is a cry about how unfair and cruel things become when a few people control the fate of many… Tourneuil… the central, repugnant hero… eventually becomes a cartoon character who expresses in the best way the by now rotten and corrupt capitalist system. Gavras’s biggest achievement lies in that he courageously succeeds in creating a film fully representative of current developments. ((Fotini Simou, “Capital”.))

Simou is quite right and touches the core of the problem when she says that Tourneuil expresses in the best way the rotten capitalist system. She is wrong however in considering him as only a cartoon character, repugnant and without any human traits. In fact Tourneuil is not a cartoon but the active agent of the system. As such, at least subjectively, he has human traits, without which he wouldn’t be able to attract Maud or gain the sympathy of the employees. Gavras presents these traits throughout the film, as when putting him remember in front of Maud his youthful dreams of becoming an economics professor, showing Tourneuil’s tragedy to be not his lack of humanity but his identification with a specific social role. Yet, because his role is an active one, Tourneuil must somehow be in touch with normal human values, must –in contrast to most other members of the board– retain a sense of what he himself once wished to be, in order to follow successfully his increasingly lonely road. This human sense is in fact a vital condition of the final scene’s realism, when Tourneuil turns to the viewer, to sum up for him the lessons of the situation. If he had no human traits, then this crucial scene would become something completely didactic and extraneous, for the totally inhuman representatives of the bank system, like Dittmar and de Suze, would never say what he says.

This active aspect of Tourneuil’s character and role is highlighted in a simple but thoughtful evaluation of the hero given by Dimitris Asproloupos. Noting that the actors perform well and in accordance with the director’s requests, he evaluates as follows the character of the protagonist:

He seems to know the tricks, he uses the media, he is one step ahead of the rest of his fellow executives whose movements he is trying to direct. It is obvious that within this amoralistic universe of the banks and money he cannot trust anyone and he seems to know that all too well remaining sober, cool and self-possessed and guided by his purpose which is essentially to gain more money and power for him and the bank. ((Dimitris Asproloupos, “To Kefalaio – Le Capital”.))

This brings us to the crucial and central question: why is Tourneuil one step ahead – or one level above, we would rather say – from his competitors and what really constitutes his superiority? It cannot be a positive difference in his actual behavior and values; indeed as we have seen, in terms of the latter he is at one with the hedge funds, being worse than the more traditional bankers. It cannot also be a decisive difference in intelligence in the sense of his capacity to manipulate things or a superiority in cunning and ruthlessness of approach or in his lust for power. Although Tourneuil finally manages to prevail against him, Dittmar, the speculators’ spokesman, does not lag substantially behind him in these “qualifications”, a fact insuring him the upper hand against all other members of the administration.

Tourneuil’s superiority eventually consist in this, that his unusual and extremely contradictory traits make him suitable to put the rules in sharing the booty. Tourneuil may at the time of robbery side decisively with those who have the greatest power, i.e. the speculators of the hedge funds. However, he also realizes that for the capitalist system to be reproduced, the booty must be shared proportionately in analogy with the strength of each rival and that those who claim it wholly with excessive greed must be put aside. His maneuvers are effective because they serve ably this goal, providing an overall management of the markets’ debauchery.

Within the total irrationality of the markets, Tourneuil prevails because he embodies at a certain moment the “logic of the irrational”.

9. The triumph of totalitarian capitalism and the fight against it

The final scene of Tourneuil’s triumph records the recognition of precisely that superiority. Initially, de Suze is tempted to take advantage of his resignation in order to become president himself, and demands from Tourneuil to honor their agreement and withdraw with his 25 million. He becomes extremely irritated when he realizes that the other man will not consent: “Tourneuil doesn’t want the money? What does he want?” he asks furiously. But he is very soon forced to admit that it would be wrong and fatal for his own ambitions to contest for presidency at this moment. Tourneuil’s resignation is not accepted and, when he comes in the meetings room, all members of the board, shareholders, top bank executives, governmental representatives, even his most extreme competitors, burst into stormy cheers and claps. Tourneuil is presented majestically: “We endured and overcame the attack thanks to our new president, Marc Tourneuil”. De Suze, who has now come to terms with the idea of becoming No. 2 of Phenix and in possession of a much bigger share of stocks thanks to the illegal merger, leads him to the chair of the bank’s president: “Tell them what they want to hear”, he tells him softly.

Tourneuil responds willingly. “My friends, I am a modern Robin Hood. We will take from the poor and give it to the rich”, he states, causing Homeric laughter and applause by all present. This image of a reverse Robin tells the truth. He possesses all the technique required for the task, while others have it only partly.

The movie’s final scene, however, is not only a solemn affirmation of Tourneuil’s superiority. Even more, it is a revelation of the totalitarian logic of modern market capitalism. It’s a proof that all the main forces of capital, governments, holders of wealth, media, etc., are at one in the inexorable march of the capitalist Moloch, who flattens and devours everything.

Is Gavras wrong when he shows all leaders of the system, bankers, ministers, executives, operate as a single entity? It could possibly be recognized that some regional representatives of the existing order, operating in minor structures, such as municipalities, secondary ministries, etc., differ subjectively from its most unscrupulous spokesmen. However, none of these representatives attends the final act of the movie and has a word on the decisive issues. Those who do, the heads of governmental economic policy, prove not to differ even minimally from the bankers. Not only they do nothing to stop them, but involve themselves actively in the looting. Just throwing a glance at familiar examples of Greek ministers of the Tsochatzopoulos and Papakonstantinou type, their sinful Siemens stories, etc., suffices to realize that here too Gavras is faithfully presenting the truth.

The Greek premiere of the movie on January 14 was attended by several representatives of the bourgeois political world, such as shipping minister O. Kefaloyianni, former deputy minister A. Dalara, etc. Also present was former President of the Republic Ch. Sartzetakis, a person centrally connected with Gavras’s movie Z, as he was the investigator in the case of the murder of left deputy Lambrakis. He had distinguished himself at that time by not succumbing to extreme pressures for a cover up, a fact which cost him later, when the dictatorship was enforced in 1967, his dismissal from the judiciary, as well as arrests and tortures.

There is no doubt that some of the presently active representatives of the system would frankly condemn the promiscuity of the markets described in the movie. But probably no one understood and they would all persistently deny that Gavras’s film is a total condemnation not only of the depraved markets, but of their bourgeois world as a whole, including themselves. What Gavras shows us is that the totalitarian movement is inherent in the very nature of capital and becomes dominant in the current phase of global capitalist domination, sweeping in its path, to one degree or another, most elements and forces of the bourgeois world. Whether some of these elements subjectively condemn the markets’ “excesses” in no way alters the essence of the situation. Objectively they are a part of it, since they accept the system as something eternally given and totally operate within its limits, without showing even a trace of independence, as Sartzetakis had bravely done in the past. This inevitably means a practical, even if tacit, acceptance of the “excesses” that are its inevitable consequences, especially at a time capitalism itself has become an “excess”.

On the other hand, the complete inability of the ruling class representatives to counter market totalitarianism demonstrates the hypocrisy of theirs when equating totalitarianism with socialism, a prejudice systematically spread for decades by their ideological spokesmen. It demonstrates that the first source of every totalitarianism lies within the capitalist system, being its exploitative class structures and relationships that inevitably develop totalitarian traits as inequality and oppression intensify. Simultaneously, however, this puts the revolutionaries who are questioning capitalism in front of critical challenges. It calls them to overcome the totalitarian tendencies, practices and ways of thought that occurred inside the labor movement, essentially expressions of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois influence, their first and most representative example being Stalinism.

We are not implying that all these conclusions can be drawn directly from “Le Capital’s problematic or that they are embraced and consciously professed by its creator. While he has a clear vision of the markets’ totalitarianism and that of their representatives, this is not the case with the relationship between totalitarianism and the whole of the reactionary bourgeois world and even more with the fundamental problem of the way out from the present depressive crisis. Here, his prospects, although optimistic, remain quite on an abstract level, limited to a mere reference of the ancient Greek cultural heritage, which although important cannot presently be a decisive factor. ((See the same Vima interview, where he said, between other things: “From the Golden Age, all the amazing things started here in Greece. Art, culture, theater. You look at the Parthenon and say that after 2,500 years it is still here. The barbarians respected it… there is something special about Greece. So it will eventually manage to get out of the precarious situation in which others put it or it found itself”.)) However, the conclusions do not cease to be there, as implicit consequences of his basic problematic. In this regard, Le Capital proves to be a real anti-capitalist masterpiece not because it takes sides against capitalism – this is done by many and is not by itself of much importance – but because, by masterly presenting the real movement of capitalism, it poses the question of how and on what conditions capitalism can be fought effectively in practice.

Yet, overcoming totalitarianism is only the most obvious aspect in solving a more general problem, that of the return to the Marxist class viewpoint and method of analyzing social reality. An interesting article by A. Dermentzoglou, criticizing Gavras’s film with reference to the rest of his work, raises that more general question, in the form of articulating some questions directed (rhetorically) to the creator:

Okay, we were betrayed by the two great opposing ideological systems, the democratic capitalism of the west and the former existing socialism. What happened then? Who and how, which procedures, what possible secret agreements led us to globalization? As you have showed in your movies, things were once clear. In “Z” you had to struggle with the deep state, in “Missing” against Pinochet and the Americans who organized the dictatorship, in the “Confession” against the distortions of existing socialism. But now we have a rapid mutation and boundaries are blurred. Let’s say, in “The Axe” how does the hero become a killer, in order not to lose his job? And something else. Denounce yes, but how to deconstruct and cancel globalization? It is a diffuse, widespread phenomenon, having infiltrated deeply almost the whole world. ((Alexis Dermentzoglou, “Costas Gavras and treachery”.))

There is no doubt that Dermentzoglou raises here some very fundamental questions. But the way he formulates them is self-annulling, creating in advance a stalemate in their proper elucidation, since it places their context, even if cleverly and delicately, at the level of betrayals and conspiracies. To consider globalization a result of “secret agreements” may sound comforting, because it creates the impression that it is a subjective arbitrariness, which may in some miraculous way be easily undone. To Marxists, however, it should be obvious that only an analysis of it as a final stage or moment of imperialism, together with an assessment of the specific forms that class, ethnic and other conflicts assume within it, can clarify the historical process, headed by the working class, which will lead to its overthrow. To speak of betrayal, particularly in relation to currents whose role has been revealed in the past, such as Stalinism, is certainly legitimate. But the main task is to present a specific, accurate analysis of the current stage. Historical development has an objective logic, determining what is possible and what is not, a logic which must be understood. Cries about treason, etc., all too often tend to cover the absence of such an understanding from those easily resorting to them.

Finally, let us just point to the fact that, while Le Capital poses the central problems of capitalist totalitarianism and of the conditions to fight it successfully, it by no means exhausts them. Gavras limits himself to figuring the economic base of totalitarian developments, leaving other aspects unaccounted. Throughout the film, there is no mention of the various ideological manifestations of capitalist crisis, the world of decadence, mysticism, religious fanaticism, racial bigotry, etc., which at times produces results that seem to be miles apart from the economic base, but is in fact generated by capitalism itself and promotes its inner economic tendencies. Here, an interesting recent movie by Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master – where however the world of decline is presented in isolation from its economic foundations, by picking up the theme of bourgeois parasitic boredom and the rise of all kinds of charlatans and gurus it entails – may serve as an indication of the way this further task may be tackled. And this might lead later to a presentation of how economic and ideological influences are synthesized in the sphere of politics. We may guess, however, that Le Capital, by presenting the economic bases of all developments, will serve as an essential starting point for that further elaboration, a fact already highlighting its greatness.

10. The climax of the movie

The climax of the movie, without which it would lose much of its meaning, comes in the end of the final scene, when Tourneuil, leaving the other bankers, ministers and executives amidst their enthusiastic celebrations, turns towards the screen to address the viewer:

“They are kids. Big kids. They have fun and will go on having fun, until everything is blown up to pieces”.

This confession of the hero, as the conscious and leading representative of the markets, is also the confession of capitalism’s failure. It is a confession that the balance he has achieved is completely temporary and the contradictions of capitalism cannot be adjusted for long. Tourneuil prevails and manages to “reconcile the irreconcilable” only because there is still a narrow margin to reconcile conflicting capitalist interests and because social destruction has not as yet reached its most extreme limit, which will cause a social explosion. Such is incidentally the substance and correlation of the current historical moment. Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, however, a new hedge fund will appear, and this time total greed will triumph. This, assuming it has not already triumphed, as, in order to beat temporarily the hedge funds Tourneuil uses all their means and methods.

But in Tourneuil’s mouth, the above aversion does not have a meaning of abandonment or pessimism as one could easily think. It is not a confirmation of the helplessness of ordinary people; it does not attempt to convey a sense of impotency as that revealed by the words of the anonymous critic we quoted at the beginning: “For the world of the rich, there will be no reason to ever stop this hideous game… The rest of us may feel disgust and anger, but we keep watching… Or at least, since we could not do otherwise, we are allowing those who rule us to support its terms.” ((“Le Capital” by Costas Gavras. ))

On the contrary, Tourneuil’s aversion has a completely opposite meaning, his very turn to the viewer dictating an addition:

“They are kids. Big kids. They have fun and will go on having fun, until everything is blown up to pieces – unless… unless you are able to stop them”.

Tourneuil’s gesture confirms thus the fact that in the present situation there are no forces at all acting for a positive change within the capitalist system and that change will pass through the struggle against it. It is a recognition that the only ones who can change their plight are the ordinary people who are drowned by it, and if they do not move by themselves to save themselves, nothing and no one will be found to save them. “If you cannot do otherwise, if you leave them support the system and its conditions until the end, then you’ll be the first to get lost when they blow up everything. So, fight” – this is the creator’s indirect exhortation through the final gesture of Tourneuil. ((Gavras himself articulated that message in a speech he made, when he was awarded a Honorary Doctorate by the Fine Arts School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki: “Resist, resist the one who tells you to make small dreams, resist the dreams of your parents to ensconce yourself, resist the misery of everyday life, resist what affects your aesthetic, do not agree to what you do not like… resist and act…”, “Costas Gavras is awarded a Honorary Doctorate in the AUT”, Ethnos, 29/1/2013.)) With this, without saying it explicitly, Gavras brings the viewer face to face with his personal responsibility, leading him to the point where he must ask and answer the question, “What can be done?” And the only conceivable answer, stemming from the whole course of events in Le Capital and of the events of life it reflects, is this.

Yet the climax of the movie, like the whole movie too, by presenting the frenzied but immense power of markets, conveys us another truth: the people’s struggle will be effective only if it is a serious, methodical and purposeful struggle, one which will unite and bring to the fore their real power, away from the nonsense and arbitrary inventions of all sorts of amateurs and sectarians. Against these, against every pompous pettiness that disguises itself as historical height, by just presenting the reality of our time as it really is, in substance and in all its complex aspects, Gavras gives us a true measure of actual historical height.

What Gavras finally tells us, to borrow a book title of the distinguished painter and Holocaust survivor Samuel Bak, is that “The game continues” – that the outcome of the game of history remains open, despite the dark clouds hanging over us. He is not saying that it will definitely be won, because no one now can say that with certainty. He says, however, that it can be won, if it becomes the game of the people, those who are put aside by globalization, those who really have the interest and the will to fight against the powerful.

Christos Kefalis is a Greek Marxist, editor of the journal Marxist Thought. Read other articles by Christos.