Osama bin Laden was not the only criminal for whom Americans yearned for justice. The Wall Street flimflam boys and their captains who made mad gambles to enrich themselves, knowing losses would be government-backed, are still at large. Millions here and beyond America yearn to see justice served on them, too.
We now have at least a fictional comeuppance for these thieves. French director and author Cedric Klapisch has just premiered his new film, My Piece of the Pie, in New York. "The film opened over a month ago in France, and already we have sold more than a million tickets," he says. It's a popular subject, obviously.
"Yes, it's about sharing the world's economy and who takes the biggest part. In that sense it has a similar theme as Social Network in dividing up percentages of the pie. We're seeing those who have money get more and more. And those who have little are getting less and less," Klapisch says. Don't be fooled by the tame name. This film is not tame. And there's nothing to eat here except the villain's heart.
Having co-written his other nine films, this is the first Klapisch has written solo. "In writing this film, I felt I had to expose something about our society, that I had to act, fast, about our current social situation." In a wickedly clever plot, he depicts the financial winners and losers as just two people. On the one hand, greedy Wall Street traders become one slick, heartless egomaniac, Steve. And representing the losers is a spunky, quirky single mother of three named France.
Cedric Klapisch. Photo by Leslie Hassler.
I knew very little about the financial world beforehand. I read books and articles. I met with traders and manual workers and compared their viewpoints. I met many characters like Steve, and the reality is much worse than I show in the film. Some of the clichés we hear about people who work in finance are true... the cocaine, the fancy cars, the partying, the call girls. With Steve, I was seeking to minimize those things rather than display all that obvious bling.
Steve, a Goldman Sachs-trained hit man (manipulating companies into oblivion) is sent from London to France to do some dirty work. He lives in a glamorous high-rise, towering above the hoi polloi, high, too, on the fortune he earns by manipulating stocks. Yet while Steve is pretty despicable, some viewers may envy his lifestyle. He's ever on the look-out for the next deal, the prettiest woman, or the fanciest sports car. (He drives a Mercedes McLaren.) "You know, seduction, power, money and fast cars so often go together, " says Klapisch.
Enter the victim, France, who has lost her all-important factory job when Steve collapsed her company. After being hospitalized for a suicide attempt and cradled by her three children, she picks herself up and gets hired, innocently, as a cleaning lady for Steve, then nanny to his three-year-old son -- for a month.
I wanted to tell the story of a meeting that is fairly unrealistic -- a trader never meets up with laid-off workers -- but this film is about what is going on today and is thus very realistic. [Agreed.] I wanted to make this a fictional film, and pretty quickly, to make it a comedy. That frightened me: a comedy from something that is fundamentally not funny! But that's what I like about Moliére or Chaplin. They tackle life's problems and laugh about them.
Before she knows what part Steve had in her company's sudden downfall, France is impressed by Steve's lifestyle, by the money he's paying her. As Steve's and France's live-in relationship between master and servant becomes more entangled by proximity, it does become more ludicrous and funny. France's frequent lighthearted zaniness is a hoot and also a clue to how far she will go to seek justice after she learns it was Steve who bankrupted her company. Steve's 'Sorry, just business' apology is empty. But a man who's cashed in his heart can hardly be expected to feel remorse.
So does France get even with Steve as we hope? Please, at least in the fictional world, give us some hope. Let me just say the climax of the film is a bombastic hoot. Klapisch's personal morality does throw him in favor of one character in his film. "It is ironic to me that in reality, it's those who are poor who do most of the giving, as France does in this film." Let's hope this film is art preceding reality instead of just imitating it.
Note to Inside Job director Charles Ferguson: be sure to see this film.
To view more of Leslie Hassler's photography see www.lesliehassler.com.