Each year in Cannes, despite the crowd, the hours in line and the fake glittering starlets there is a movie that justifies it all. This year for me it was Cleveland versus Wall Street by Jean-Stéphane Bron: a sharp look, through incredibly smart directing, at the many home foreclosures brought about by the subprime crisis.
The documentary begins with views of abandoned houses in Cleveland’s suburbs and the determination of the city’s activists to sue those responsible: Wall Street. When the director learned that the lawyer Josh Cohen had actually filed a suit against 21 Wall Street banks, Jean-Stéphane Bron decided that this trial would be his next documentary for the big screen. He secured the budget in his native Switzerland and in France with Canal Plus, but while he was getting ready to shoot, reality took another path. Wall Street lawyers successfully blocked all attempts to bring the banks to trial.
During the Q&A post-screening at Directors’ Fortnight, Jean-Stéphane Bron talked of the moment when he learned the trial would not go ahead. He stayed in his hotel room for a few days and finally decided that this was his chance
to let cinema happen. Instead of following the real trial, he had to invent it by choosing the best characters from the real world to tell the story. Every witness was selected because of his/her personal experience with sub-primes but their photogenic appeal was also a factor. The film was shot in three weeks but preparations took three years. The result: a beautifully smooth film presenting rather dry content.
The two other films shown as part of the Cannes Official Selection and exploring the 2008 economic crisis seem complementary but failed to achieve such intensity. But let’s begin with the first to be screened on the French Riviera, Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. In this sequel of Wall Street from 1987, Gordon Gekko is back in NYC in 2008, just before the global financial meltdown. After serving years in jail he now lectures on his experiences to economics students. “I once said, greed is good, now it seems it’s legal”. Meeting his future sonin-law, a successful trader, gives him a chance to make up with his daughter – and to get back to business while Wall Street collapses.
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