The Nazis of big busi­ness

A new French film finds dis­turb­ing par­al­lels be­tween multi-na­tional com­pa­nies and the Holo­caust. Its di­rec­tor Ni­co­las Klotz talks to Nick John­stone

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS & BOOKS -

HAV­ING GROWNup in a French- Jewish fam­ily scarred by the Holo­caust, film­maker Ni­co­las Klotz had long wanted to find a way to tackle the sub­ject through cin­ema.

In 2001, while lis­ten­ing to the ra­dio, he fi­nally found it in the form of a dis­cus­sion about a then new novel by Fran­cois Emmanuel, La Ques­tion Hu­maine, which tells the story of what hap­pens when Si­mon, a glacial hu­man re­sources psy­chol­o­gist, based at the Paris of­fice of a fic­ti­tious Ger­man petro­chem­i­cal cor­po­ra­tion, is as­signed by a su­pe­rior to in­ves­ti­gate whether or not the firm’s CEO, Mathias Just, is hav­ing a ner­vous break­down.

Dur­ing his in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Si­mon learns of in­for­ma­tion con­nect­ing high­level man­age­ment to the Third Re­ich. Be­com­ing ob­sessed with the de­tails, he starts to con­fuse the “se­lec­tion process” typ­i­cal of hu­man re­sources work with the mass “se­lec­tion process” un­der­taken by the Nazis.

Read­ing the novel, Klotz found him­self fas­ci­nated by the par­al­lels Emmanuel makes be­tween cor­po­rate cul­ture and the Holo­caust. “I’d been try­ing to find a way through cin­ema to find a form to speak about the Shoah,” says Klotz. “But as told from my gen­er­a­tion, which is not my fa­ther’s or my grand­fa­thers. I kept think­ing, ‘What can I film?’”

By the time he fin­ished read­ing La Ques­tion Hu­maine, the ques­tion was an­swered. He passed the novel to his screen­writ­ing part­ner, Elis­a­beth Perce­val and told her he had a plan to adapt the story, use it to “film the ef­fects of the Shoah to­day”.

“It has a sort of film-noir at­mos­phere,” says the 54-year-old di­rec­tor. “And it works on fright and ter­ror. It’s got sus­pense too. But in­stead of talk­ing about a mur­derer, it’s about mass-mur­der.”

Klotz asked his ac­tor friend, Mathieu Amal­ric (who stars in the next Bond film, The Quan­tum Of So­lace), to play Si­mon. He knew that the ac­tor, whose Pol­ish-Jewish fam­ily was also bru­talised by the Nazis, would bring the nec­es­sary in­ten­sity to the part. “Mathieu’s Jewish and al­though he doesn’t see the whole world through this iden­tity, the sen­si­tiv­ity is there so we could work in this eerie way. Si­mon is some­one who dis­cov­ers he’s col­lab­o­rat­ing with some kind of fas­cist sys­tem. How can he get out of it? That’s what’s very spooky about the film. Fas­cism’s like witch­craft. It can pass through a whole num­ber of peo­ple. Like black magic. And Si­mon has to get out of it. And that’s his move­ment through the film. To get more and more hu­man.”

As the film pro­gresses, Si­mon, who we learn had ear­lier prided him­self on ex­pertly weed­ing out al­co­holics and age­ing ex­ec­u­tives to im­prove the com­pany’s eco­nomic health and per­for­mance, starts to see par­al­lels be­tween his work and the agenda of the Nazis.

“By the end of the film,” Klotz ex­plains. “He’s just one hu­man be­ing among other hu­man be­ings. He’s no longer se­lect­ing any­one for any­thing.”

Al­though Klotz says the film has yet to earn any “in­tel­li­gent at­tacks” for com­par­ing the Holo­caust with the daily car­ry­ings on of large cor­po­ra­tions, he ad­mits there is scope for such crit­i­cism. “Peo­ple could be shocked by the par­al­lel­ism. But mostly they’re very in­ter­ested in the echoes. It’s like a con­tin­uum. Like his­tory is still work­ing, not dead.”

Klotz had a hard time dis­cussing the progress of the film with his fa­ther. As a child he had learned that his fa­ther could not emo­tion­ally han­dle dis­cussing his own fa­ther’s death dur­ing the Holo­caust. “It’s a very emo­tional thing in his fam­ily,” says Klotz, clearly car­ry­ing the suf­fer­ing of that legacy him­self. “His fa­ther was… it’s very com­pli­cated.” He leaves it there, un­able to say more.

Klotz’s Pre­vi­ous films by Klotz in­clude Chants of Sand and Stars, about “the Ara­bic semitic ori­gins of Jewish mu­sic”, as well as Paria (2000), set among the out- cast “street” com­mu­ni­ties of Paris, and The Wound (2004), which chron­i­cles the fate of African refugees try­ing to settle in a hos­tile France. He sees both films as hav­ing been made with a Jewish sen­si­bil­ity. “It’s be­cause of be­ing Jewish that I can look at what’s hap­pen­ing to­day and be trou­bled by what’s hap­pen­ing in France against im­mi­grants.”

Re­turn­ing to Heart­beat De­tec­tor, he sums up what the film of­fers cin­ema­go­ers. “It’s not look­ing into the past, it’s like if the past looks into the present. It’s like bring­ing the past to the present. The film unites peo­ple be­tween cin­ema and his­tory.” Heart­beat De­tec­tor is on lim­ited re­lease from May 16. See the re­view on this page

Ni­co­las Klotz di­rects Laeti­tia Spi­garelli and Mathieu Amal­ric on the set of Heart­beat De­tec­tor

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