Film world has capitalism and crisis in its sights

February 16, 2009

BERLIN (Reuters) - Communism and terrorism have long vied for the title of cinema's favorite bad guy.

Now, it seems, capitalism looks set to challenge them, with globalization as its evil sidekick.

At least 11 dramas and documentaries at this year' s Berlin film festival cast a mostly critical eye on the world of banking, big business, the sometimes shocking gap between rich and poor and the harsh reality of economic migration. By qu

estioning the West's long-held belief that free markets are the way forward and globalization is a force for good, the films resonated with increasingly skeptical audiences aware of the gathering economic storm in the real world.

The Berlin festival, an annual showcase of hundreds of new films , opened in 2009 with "The International," a thriller starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts .

By casting a nefarious bank manipulating debt markets as the villain, it set the tone for the event.

For director Tom Tykwer , the prescient picture turned out to be an unhappy coincidence.

"The fact that the bubble has burst the moment the movie is coming out I don't find enjoyable but ... dismal," he said.

The German film maker, like others in Berlin, was aware of the irony that his movie was made with money from a financing powerhouse, admitting "it is almost impossible to trace back to find where the money really comes from."

Critics believe that by tackling the economic crisis , directors are continuing the kind of political cinema popular toward the end of George W. Bush's presidency, when movies tackled issues ranging from the Iraq war to health care.

"I'd say cinema was already fairly political, I think particularly starting with the late Bush years," said Jay Weissberg of trade publication Variety.

"People were feeling angry about it and there was solidarity so it was easy to make movies about it. I think the same thing is going to be true of the economic crisis."


Economic migration was portrayed less as an opportunity to make dreams come true and more as a necessary evil requiring people to take huge risks only to end up in a kind of modern-day slavery away from their families.

Competition entries "Mammoth" and " Little Soldier " tackled the issue head on, as did the closing film "Eden is West," about illegal immigrants trying to eke out a living in Europe .

In documentary "The Wondrous World of Laundry," German director Hans-Christian Schmid highlights how the blurring of borders in Europe and the ideal of equality across a continent have often failed to materialize.

Luxury hotels in Germany send their dirty linen to be cleaned at a giant laundry just over the border in Poland , where the labor is cheaper.

Five years after Poland joined the European Union , many Germans still had little idea about the conditions in which their eastern neighbors lived and worked, Shmid said.

"It's only an hour's drive away but I have the impression that we still know so little about the country and the people."

A documentary adaptation of Naomi Klein 's 2007 book " The Shock Doctrine " argued that governments, often in collusion with big businesses, exploit natural disasters, economic crises and wars to push through radical free market policies .

The result, the film concludes, is often catastrophic for ordinary people and beneficial to big corporations. Leaders have also turned to brutal repression in order to sustain their agendas of privatization, deregulation and tax cuts.

British directors Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross updated the book with a section on the economic crisis , and questioned the policy of bailing out ailing banks.

"When you see bankers being given hundreds of billions of dollars (in bailouts) who have been taking billions of dollars themselves for all these years it makes people very angry," Winterbottom told reporters in Berlin .

"I think that is the only positive thing -- that people around the world are so angry about what's been going on. Perhaps that will change what happens in the future."

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