NEWS

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Le Capital (Costa-Gavras)

When it rains.

[No U.S. distribution yet] PARIS – Men looking smart in suits. People walking in and out of rooms, cars, and airport lounges. Icy conversations among would-be backstabbers. I’ll raise my voice then you’ll raise yours.

Any of these sentences could summarize the new Costa-Gavras film “Le Capital,” in which the head of a large European investment bank (played by France’s top humorist, Gad Elmaleh) desperately clings to power as an American hedge fund company tries to buy them out.

Costa-Gavras, the otherwise remarkable director behind “Z” and “Amen,” (they’re a part of the cannon) is apparently shooting blanks now. And when he and fellow octogenarian Jean-Pierre Grumbert got together to write the screenplay for “Le Capital,” a dusty and irrelevant take on J.C. Chandor’s “Margin Call,” one wonders whether they thought of getting the script vetted by someone else.

Sure, there was screenwriter number 3. Author Karim Boukércha was attached to help write this screenplay but I’ll guess he was out skiing in Mégève at the time. Even if he were around (which I’m convinced he wasn’t) I’d have to ask: why him? Boukércha recently spent ten years inside the Parisian metro’s tunnels documenting and interviewing graffiti artists for a book. You could do better in terms of credentials.

The dialogues between the bank’s executives and its C.E.O so watered-down, to say nothing of the proverbial mile-a-minute-cliché, that you start to wonder whether this isn’t second-degree humor and Costa-Gavras and Grumbert aren’t just taking the piss. Or maybe “Le Capital” is an example of the old resentment which the French feel toward us. They watch us through the prism of socialism (and sometimes Communism) meaning that, American-style capitalism (with banking, that, rightly perceived as a source of problems) will, in all likelihood, be grossly misrepresented to the point of ridicule in a movie, as it was the case here: “Le Capital,” a would-be thriller with a strong story potential, has been turned into a pathetic dud by clumsy hands.

The film’s only saving grace was Gad Elmaleh—the one who could, but didn’t. Elmaleh, an extremely popular stand-up comedian here, does a Sam Rogers who’s fakely ambiguous at best, (and yet, a conflicted banker could make for a compelling on-screen character, you know, attempting to save the world’s ecology while purchasing Berluti shoes by the dozen. But Elmaleh let this opportunity get away) and parodic, at worse. It’s as if he were on stage at L’Olympia (Paris’s Carnegie) doing his stand-up routine as Monsieur le très Greedy Banker : the frowned brow, the cold stare, the frozen rictus, the hand raised high clutching the invisible knife. Elmaleh fails so catastrophically at portraying Marc Tourneuil that one questions whether the comedian really belongs on the big screen anymore.

Production: Centre National de la Cinématographie, COFINOVA, France 2 Cinéma.

Starring: Gad Elmaleh, Gabriel Byrne, Céline Sallette, Liya Kebede and Hippolyte Girardot. Directed by Costa-Gavras.

Gad Elmaleh and Costa-Gavras (at right) on set