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Film Scratches: The Dance of Money and Artists – Vive le Capital (2012)

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Film Scratches focuses on the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially as practiced by individual artists. It features a mixture of reviews, interviews, and essays.

A Review by David Finkelstein.

At the start of Vive le Capital, Orit Ben-Shitrit’s absorbingly strange examination of capitalism, art, and domination, we see a French businessman (the polished Pascal Yen-Pfister) who is undergoing interrogation for a massive business scandal. It’s a very unusual interrogation: we hear the male voice of the interrogator, but we don’t see him. Where we would expect him to be standing in seedy-looking office we see instead two female dancers in their underwear, hurling themselves against the walls. Their hunted, angry looks make it unlikely that they are fellow capitalists. More likely, they represent the man’s accusers, the ordinary people and workers whose money he squandered.

The remainder of the film takes place in another large decrepit room which has old filing cabinets and ledgers. The businessman continues his monolog, but now he seems to be dictating his memoirs into an open-reel tape deck. He steadfastly denies that any of the harm he caused was his fault. There are two dancers in this room as well, and one of them wears a renaissance style ruffled color. His stylized makeup recalls a Pierrot figure. We have seen several shots of a time-clock, and the dancers mechanized, repetitive gestures, performed to the sound of a metronome, emphasize the way that workers have to sell their time in order to survive.

vivelecapital2In contrast to the first scene, most of the camera moves in this scene are slow circular pans, taking in the businessman, the dancers, and the filing cabinets in turn. These pans recall the style of Peter Greenaway, a filmmaker whose work is akin to Ben-Shitrit’s in several ways. For example, the businessman’s monolog continues by detailing the intricacies of his stormy personal and financial relationship with an artist named Elizabeth, who feels her work is compromised by their association. Greenaway is also preoccupied with the compromising relationship between money and art and, in truth, all artists are forced to spend a great deal of time thinking about this issue.

The film was shot in the former Bankers Trust building on Wall Street, after a scandal led to the bank’s dispersion. It is clear that in many ways the site itself inspired the film, and it is fascinating to see how Ben-Shitrit allows her imagination to populate these desolate spaces with a delicate and poetic mise en scene which speaks indirectly but eloquently about so many complex aspects of the history of money. Her strong visual skills are key to the film’s power. Her fine control over color values, for example, lends great elegance and expressiveness to her visual compositions. In the first scene she indicates that the two dancers are in a different realm than the businessman, since they are lit with a sickly green color while he appears more naturally. In the second scene, the Pierrot’s red hat is a vivid accent sticking out from the drab browns and grays of the ledger room.

At the end of the film, the businessman makes a plausible argument that his misadventures in capital are as humanly damaging to himself as they are to others. He walks through a darkened space, following the vulnerable dancers, all of them trying to make their way in the confusion. It is Ben-Shitrit’s special talent to be able to take this particular confusion and shine a light on it for us.

David Finkelstein is a filmmaker, musician, and critic. For more information on Film Scratches, or to submit an experimental film for review, contact lakeivan@earthlink.net.

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