May 18, 2010 / 4:28 AM / 10 years ago

Cannes films mine financial collapse for material

Cast members Michael Douglas (R) and Carey Mulligan pose on the red carpet as they leave the Festival Palace after the screening of the film "Wall Street - Money Never Sleeps" by director Oliver Stone during the 63rd Cannes Film Festival in Cannes May 14, 2010. REUTERS/Yves Herman

CANNES (Hollywood Reporter) - Two years after the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers helped trigger a meltdown of the global economy, a trio of films at Cannes offer very different, but complementary perspectives of why everything went so wrong.

From the Hollywood gloss and Michael Douglas-driven swagger of Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” to the quiet deliberation and art house introspection of Christoph Hochhausler’s “The City Below,” to Charles Ferguson’s blow-by-blow documentary “Inside Job,” the dismal science of economics has rarely been so compelling.

“There haven’t been many films set in the world of finance, with the exception of the original ‘Wall Street,’ because there’s nothing inherently visual about it,” Hochhausler told The Hollywood Reporter. “These bankers and hedge fund managers are the new kings, they have tremendous power but you never see them, all the action takes place in grey office buildings and on computer screens.”

Stone gets around this problem by pumping up the action and, as he did in his 1987 original, shoots “Wall Street 2” like a thriller. The result is mainstream entertainment with a message: Capitalism as practiced in the go-go period of the last 20 years has failed.

Hochhausler took a more interior approach on “The City Below.” Instead of trying to make high finance more exciting, the German director shows how the manipulation and amorality of the banking world play out in a private setting. When Roland (Robert Hunger-Buhler), a top banker, falls for the young Svenja (Nicolette Krebitz), he plays King David to her Bathsheba and arranges to have Svenja’s husband transferred to a dangerous post at one of the bank’s operations in Indonesia, where he is likely to be killed. Roland is the anti-Gordon Gekko, marked more by cool deliberation than cocky bravado.

“When we were doing research for the film among Frankfurt bankers, we kept running up against ‘Wall Street’ because for these guys, Gordon Gekko is their idol,” Hochhausler said. “It shows how impossible it is to create a true anti-hero in the movies.”

Ferguson perhaps gets closest to exposing the true face of Wall Street with “Inside Job.” The fast-moving documentary plays like Michael Moore with brains, taking us through the ins and outs of the financial crisis while keeping its sense of head-shaking humor at the absurdity of it all.

Speaking of absurd, a Cannes screening of “Inside Job” provided one of the more amusing incidences this festival of art imitating life.

As the credits rolled on Ferguson’s documentary, a man sitting next to Oliver Stone muttered to the “Wall Street” director: “Man, that would be a great subject for a feature film.”

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