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Economic Crisis Looms Large and Small in Cannes Films

Economic Crisis Looms Large and Small in Cannes Films

Watch out for the trend pieces: By the end of the Cannes Film Festival, mark my words, people will be talking about the global economic meltdown as thematized by Cannes’ top cinematic offerings. While the festival is only in its first few days, it’s not hard to find a latent sense of economy strife on display, as I have reported for the Wall Street Journal Online.

In Jacques Audiard’s tragic romance “Rust and Bone,” for example, one British critic wrote that the film is “about Europe now, where the economic climate means people can be made redundant at any moment. For the boxer it necessitates illegal fights. For the woman it means very little chance of work at all.”

And in separate interviews I did with Aussie-based filmmakers John Hillcoa (*Lawless”) and Andrew Dominik (“Killing Them Softly”) for Indiewire, both told me their movies were metaphors for the country’s economic crisis.

“It’s very timely in terms of the huge economic upheaval of that time, with the Great Depression and the whole frustration of corporate greed vs. the common person,” Hillcoat told me.

Likewise, “Killing Them Softly” examines an economic crisis in a criminal economy — in this case, the mob — that exists without regulation, with Brad Pitt’s mob enforcer trying to set things right (through violence as a form of regulation).

If only Wall Street’s biggest offenders could be dispensed with a shotgun.

According to Indiewire critic Eric Kohn’s review, “Killing Them” “trashes the notion of the American dream as anything more than fodder for an endless rat race.” On the eve of both the economic collapse and a crucial heist scene, we can hear President Bush speaking from a TV: “This is an extraordinary period for America’s economy.”

“What the story is about is an economic crisis in a criminal economy — an economy supported by gambling,” said Dominik. “And the crisis occurred because of a failure of regulation, so it seemed to be an opportunity to make a film about what was happening in 2008, to make a story about the economic crisis.”

U.K. filmmaker Ken Loach will once again bring his highly social-minded consciousness to the Croisette with his latest “The Angel’s Share,” about an ex-con trying to set his life right, which the filmmaker was inspired to make to give a voice to the young unemployed people in the country who face what he calls an “empty future,” Loach has said in an interview. “Even the ones who are allegedly in work are in temporary work or on short-term contracts or hired by the day. People become humiliated. They don’t have any defining, dignified sense of who they are through work.”

While David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis” also has yet to screen, I expect the film to drive home many of our current Occupy-esque ideas about haves vs have-nots, one-percenters vs the 99%, and the inevitable, inexorable, and damaging pull of late capitalism. But I guess we’ll have to see about that one.

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