"My Piece of the Pie," the latest from director Cedric Klapisch ("L'Auberge Espagnole") is a timely contemporary dramedy that touches upon the economic crisis that's crippled much of the world. The film concerns a single mother (Karen Viard) who's forced to become a housekeeper after losing her job at the local factory. When she lands a job with a rich and smarmy power broker (Gilles Lellouche), her life takes a turn for the unexpected.
In this editorial, Klapisch takes us behind the scenes of the IFC Films release (it's currently playing in New York and is available nationwide on VOD) to explain the research that went into the project, and his reasons for making a comedy with societal implications.
As an artist, the concept of creating a fictional film to make a statement about real-life current events has always struck me as a terrible idea. My faith is in poetry, not sociology.
So when I began writing "My Piece of the Pie," the story of a single working mother whose community and livelihood are crushed by a ruthless financier, I became distinctly uncomfortable. I was depicting the gulf between the wealthy few and the underprivileged many, a divide that can no longer sustain itself, that inevitably becomes violent. The connection to what’s going on in the world was obvious and deliberate—precisely what I’ve always avoided. For reasons I didn’t fully understand at the time, however, I felt I had to write it.
First, though, I had to learn about the world of finance, the domain of what has recently become known as the 1%. I read books, I pored over articles, but mostly I spent time with traders. I spoke to them, watched them work and observed them interact with each other and the world around them.
I quickly learned that if I modeled my fictional financier too closely on the men I was seeing, the result would be far too cliché: a man who possesses everything but ultimately has nothing, whose life is entirely devoid of human connection. (One trader told me he preferred call girls to relationships because they are less expensive than “real” women.) They are addicted to the rush of acquiring money, and like all addicts, their relationship to the next fix leaves no room in their life for anything else.
And still: We, the 99%, are far too often seduced by them. Worse, we long to be them and believe that we can. As much as we know it’s a lie, the myth of Cinderella, of rags to riches, is deeply embedded in our collective psyche. It’s a distinctly American ideal, but as a Frenchman I can safely say that it has been thoroughly embraced by Western culture across the globe.
As "My Piece of the Pie" develops, the unemployed single mother gets a job working as a housekeeper for the ruthless financier. They get to know each other, and despite their differences, a fondness for each other begins to develop. A possibility begins to glitter in the distance, a happy ending a la "Pretty Woman": the girl who has nothing but ends up a princess, redeeming the soulless rich man’s life along the way.
It doesn’t work that way. The idea that it does is part of the problem. When we focus on the riches we desire, we tend to forget what we have: our capacity for joy, our connection to others, our desire to work together toward a common good. The lie is that we can get what we want by taking as much as we can; more often than not, it's by sharing with others that we ourselves benefit. As we the 99% rise up to demand what is rightfully ours, we need to think about what we want to take—and what we need to let go.