Review: Oeconomia shines light on state of capitalism


Antenna Documentary Film Festival
Palace Chauvel, Sydney, May 1
Rating: Four stars (out of five)

How does money come into this world? How is profit generated? What is the relationship between debt and wealth? These are the big questions tackled by German filmmaker Carmen Losmann's documentary Oeconomia, which had its Australian premiere at the 2021 Antenna Documentary Film Festival.

Losmann's film is a scathing critique of the monetary system, but never once does it feel mean-spirited. Although at times dense and hard to follow, it is ultimately an entertaining, and at times darkly funny, journey into the machine room of the world of capitalism. Her interview subjects are the men in suits from the largest banks and financial institutions of Europe. They are often framed by cinematographer Dirk Lütter between the horizontal and vertical lines of tall glass buildings and walk like robots rather than flesh-and-blood human beings. The effect is uncomfortably sterile.

As these subjects are questioned about the links between private wealth creation, public debt and the role of big banks, they oftentimes stumble over their terminology and analogies. It's funny because it's real, and riveting to see these supposed experts break down, stuttering, as they struggle to explain a concept. Their non-answers go to highlight how opaque and incomprehensible the system actually is. Are they hiding something or do they not fully understand it either? If financial experts from Deutsche Bank or the European Central Bank cannot explain how money and profit is generated, then what hope do the rest of us have?

It's riveting to see these supposed experts break down, stuttering, as they struggle to explain a concept.

Losmann's film points out when the economy booms, our planet's resources are depleted. When public debt increases, so does private wealth. Banks hand out credit, but they do not yet have the money that is being loaned. These seemingly simple but heady concepts are creatively illustrated through graphics that play out like a highly-thought out PowerPoint presentation on screen. It's evident as you're watching those graphics that Losmann has done her research.

Her own voice guides the viewer through the ups and downs of her research process. What particularly stands out is the bureaucracy and barriers that prevented the filmmaker from conducting interviews on her terms, sometimes from conducting them at all. She uses actors in certain reproductions to present responses received by email, and in one instance, when no German bank would allow her access, had a Swiss clerk simulate the credit approval process at Freie Gemeinschaftsbank in Basel, Switzerland.

The documentary moves along at a lightning pace, as edited by Losmann and Henk Drees, switching from one head-scratching question to another. This is all underpinned by an eerie soundtrack which exacerbates the uneasiness, especially in the latter stages of the film.

Oeconomia manages to turn what could have been a dry treatise into an engaging and eye-opening documentary. Losmann does not come to any conclusion on the state of capitalism, apart from to say it is in crisis, and nor does she offer a solution. That would be futile. Instead, the film ends as it began, with a powerful question: What will collapse first? Our ecosystem (the Earth) or capitalism?

OECONOMIA: Official Trailer (English)


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