There is always a fascination with the role of the past and how quickly it fades into oblivion. The actors and contexts may change, but there is always an unseen hand, proffering the levers that mechanically set in motion the similar yet different syndrome as a clever repackaging of ancient dynamics….
In Alain Resnais’s brilliant film, the dealings of a high placed swindler bring down the Third Republic. Who was the real Stavisky, and how wide was his reach? Its a story about a wilting, flawed elite, oblivious to its impending demise. Stavisky built an empire through a combination of subterfuge, fraud and false identity, becoming an influential and powerful man in France in the period between the wars. He is more of an American type figure in the vein of the Yankee confidence man. His life was the perfect sham which took in businessmen, financiers and politicians of all persuasions. It’s also disconcerting to be reminded by Stavisky: how the global markets have ignored the lessons of history,caught up in their own ponzi schemes. So much so that we must yet again live through the aftermath of international financial corruption on a scale that makes Stavisky’s hustling rather minor when compared to a Madoff or the Stavisky’s working on Wall Street.
Briefly the real Stavisky was an entrepreneur, an impresario and an accomplished swindler who bribed politicians, the police, the courts and the press; he also squandered all of his own wealth. When he flooded France with fake vouchers in 1932, the banks were closed. As a result, there were violent street riots early in 1933, in which a number of persons were shot by the police. The Government could no longer rely on the loyalty of the army or the police, and Premier Edouard Daladier was forced to resign. (Stavisky himself appears to have been an apolitical adventurer, although he had a megalomaniacal belief that he could solve the economic problems of Europe—and also end unemployment. Apparently, the press dwelled on the fact that he was a Russian Jew, and the fascist agents in France exploited the anti-Semitic issue by insisting that foreign crooks were out to ruin the nation. Read More:http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9A06E6D9153FEF34BC4850DFBF66838F669EDE
The Third republic was the longest lasting regime ever to govern France. Between its difficult birth in 1870, and it unlamented death in 1940, it managed to endure for seventy years. It lead France to victory in WWI and produced leaders like Clemenceau. But in the midst of these achievements something happened to the Third Republic that sapped its vitality, and at the first sign of an external threat it rolled over and passed out. The collapse was sudden but its roots were deep: The Third Republic was suffering from a steady, creeping enfeeblement for which there was no cure. It could endure neither its vices nor their remedies.
Among the vices, there was the instability of revolving door governments, 107 in all or about 1.5 per annum. A clan of recurring mediocrities and a multi-party system that contributed to a vacuum of authority. The nation was also polarized between a disillusioned Left and a Right that admired fascism. There was a widespread attitude of defeatism and cynicism. The sclerotic high command was obsessed with the idea of a continuous defensive front, and argued that the horse was better than the tank and that there could be no such thing as aerial combat. There was also a bankrupt, “peace at any price foreign policy” . Finally, there was a series of financial scandals that further undermined the regime by pointing to corruption in high places. Foremost among these was the Stavisky scandal, which was more sweeping than the others since members of all three branches of government were involved. Thanks to Stavisky, the government fell, and Paris experienced the worst street riots it had ever seen.
Or own system is a good analogy for Stavisky: a decaying system that can’t really be patched together which in turn provides a congenial environment for parasites that eventually destroy. Stavisky has been to Stanford, Wharton or Harvard and is now legitimate. The jaunty amorality of a Lloyd Blankfein; Stavisky is seen as a kind of French Arturo Ui, who rises in the system and is accepted by the establishment- the old crocodiles in white shoes, Soros’s phrase-precisely because he is unprincipled. The Third Repu, Resnais is telling us was a period when dishonesty was rewarded which resonates today.
Resnais is also telling us that there are hierarchies of dishonesty. There is first Stavisky the petty crook who prospers thanks to his government connections. There is also the system which closes ranks when it is threatened by Stavsisky and arranges for his disappearance. And there is finally, the reactions of an enraged public opinion, fanned by a dishonest press, which uses Stavisky as a way of bringing down the system.
Watching Resnais’ intriguing film today you can sense the forces unleashed in part by Stavisky’s fall – forces that were to lead to the election of Leon Blum, the first socialist and the first Jew to serve as Prime Minister of France from 1936.
Walk through the posh sixteenth arrondissement today (see if you can catch the reference to it that doesn’t appear in the subtitles) and you can still sense that jealous, old and cold power waiting its turn, counting its money. Should another Stavisky happen along, you can be sure his Madoff-like scam would quickly lure the locals into whipping out their chequebooks yet again! Read More:http://www.sensesofcinema.com/2011/cteq/stavisky%E2%80%A6/