In “Beyond Democracy: A Diary of Fraud,” former journalist Denis Robert and filmmaker Philippe Harel venture into territory familiar to Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky. The two low-key investigators spent 18 months trying to piece together the intricate mechanisms in France whereby underhanded financial dealings — abetted by bankers and outmoded, unenforceable legislation — enrich the unscrupulous few and make a laughing stock of democracy. In France, pic premiered in one large Paris hardtop and was slated for simultaneous release in 10 major cities; overseas, it’s a natural for fests and current-affairs tube slots.
Via dozens of interviews, archival footage and interstitial images tied together with Robert’s well-reasoned personal commentary, docu argues that “Corruption” should pretty much follow “Liberty,” “Equality” and “Fraternity” as watchwords of the French republic. Since Robert isn’t a crusading smart-ass like Moore or an intellectual theorist like Chomsky, his questions, observations and understated dismay are easy for the average viewer to identify with.
One interviewee opines that dirty money keeps the capitalist system afloat and that eliminating the illegal profits from prostitution, drugs and gambling would be as destabilizing as “eliminating oil money from the world economy.” Because the French government is so fully interwoven into all commercial transactions, any attempt to dismantle fraud would almost certainly lead back to highly placed government officials.
A journalist for France’s ferociously independent and advertising-free satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine points out, “Objectively speaking, the fake-invoices affair (a scandal uncovered in 1994) implicating the RPR (President Jacques Chirac’s party) and the mayor of Paris (still incumbent Jean Tiberi) is way bigger than Watergate.”
When the filmers point out that Nixon lied, too, the journalist parries that Chirac needn’t worry about ever being put in the position of having to lie — no self-respecting French journalist would dream of posing a potentially messy question, especially since the French government subsidizes the written press to the tune of 5 billion francs (nearly $ 1 billion) a year. Four-fifths of everything published, telecast or projected in France (including this documentary) belongs to a small circle of firms linked to the state or dependent upon banks or industrial groups that exercise subtle or not so subtle censorship.
Some interviewees indict France’s insular ruling classes, who failed to anticipate the transition from an industrial to a service economy. And throwing the bums out is no guarantee of fundamental change: Serge July, publisher of leftist daily Liberation — and the lone interviewee here who thinks the investigation of corruption is actually improving — points out that Italy “replaced 80% of its elites” without becoming squeaky clean as a result.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, the notorious National Front leader, was the only political figure who agreed to be interviewed for the docu, but only a brief, inconclusive snippet appears in finished film. (Filmmakers admit their 40-minute interview was a dud.) Robert wrote to dozens of decision-makers but received only silence or formal warnings from lawyers in return.
Apart from a segment in which middle-aged teachers and workers in a region with 18% unemployment discuss the demise of strong unions, pacing is engaging throughout, with a strong finish. Mix of film and transferred video footage is good overall.