'Let's Make Money'

The unequal wealth of nations is explored in Austrian docu-helmer Erwin Wagenhofer's timely, worthy, but too generalist "Let's Make Money."

The unequal wealth of nations is explored in Austrian docu-helmer Erwin Wagenhofer’s timely, worthy, but too generalist “Let’s Make Money.” Globetrotting essay airs views from financial hotshots in Asia and Europe to cotton farmers in Burkina Faso to make the obvious point that the West rips off developing nations and has unsustainably rigged the world economy. Seemingly finished before the current economic meltdown, this artily filmed but ponderous pic doesn’t delve as deeply into the mechanics of modern capitalism as some recent TV coverage. Though already released in Germany and Austria, this won’t make much money beyond the fest circuit.

Still, director-lenser Wagenhofer certainly puts in the legwork to get his material. Like his debut feature-length docu, the agribusiness-centered “We Feed the World,” “Money” aims for a broad canvas, juxtaposing financial masters of the universe with the poorest of the poor via at least a dozen stories on four continents.

In just the first quarter hour, pic switchbacks between interviews with sleek, Singapore-based financier Mark Mobius (who boosts speculation on emerging markets) and shots of the slums in Chennai, India. In the latter, workers toil at factories owned by Austrian businessmen who are chagrinned that labor costs aren’t as low as they used to be.

There’s no editorializing voiceover to pull all these separate strands together, and the compare-and-contrast editing is left to speak for itself in the manner of many recent highbrow docus, such as the recent “Our Daily Bread.” Still, pic comes across more as a polemic than a piece of reportage. Even wealthy Western businessmen interviewed mildly lament the iniquities of the system and its doomed precariousness.

However, some auds may feel shortchanged by this very lack of editorializing or depth. Each topic (the World Bank, cotton production, Spain’s real-estate bubble, and so on) is skimmed over in a show-but-don’t-explain way. Viewers are left not much wiser about global finance than they might have been from a high-school economics class.

“The Ascent of Money,” a recent series on Blighty’s Channel 4, tackled the subject in a far more rigorous manner, admittedly over the space of six hours.

Wagenhofer’s digital lensing is consistently arresting, although the languid editing and lack of music overdo the sense of high-toned austerity. The version caught still had spelling mistakes in the subtitles and may be cleaned up considerably by the time it gets to Sundance.

Let's Make Money

Austria

Production

An Allegro Films production, in association with Delphi Filmverleih Berlin, with participation of Austrian Film Institute, Vienna Film Fund. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced by Helmut Grasser. Directed, written by Erwin Wagenhofer.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Wagenhofer; editor, Paul M. Sedlacek; sound (Dolby Digital), Lisa Ganser; sound designer, Nina Slatosch. Reviewed on DVD, Hoveton, U.K., Dec. 3, 2008. (In Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam; Sundance Film Festival -- World Cinema, competing.) Running time: 107 MIN.

With

Mark Mobius, Mirko Kovats, Gerhard Schwarz, John Christensen, Yves Delisle, Francis Kologo, Werner Ruegemer, Hermann Scheer, John Perkins, Anton Schneider, Miguel Angel Torres, Ramon Fenandez Duran. (English, German, Hindi, French, Spanish dialogue)

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