PICKING up a deserved best screenplay Oscar nod earlier this year, Margin Call makes a decent fist of dramatising the financial crisis that sent the global economy into meltdown four years ago.
The debut effort of writer/director JC Chandor, it revolves around 36 hours in the life of a Lehman Brothers-style investment bank and the handful of employees frantically trying to figure out a plan in the full knowledge that the bubble is about to pop in a very public way. Zachary Quinto’s super-bright junior risk analyst is our entry-point into this surprisingly thrilling world. Acting on a tip from of his just-fired boss (Stanley Tucci), he figures out that the bank’s toxic assets are about to destroy it and the film uses a ticking-time-bomb structure to crank up the tension. But it’s Chandor’s non-judgmental approach to his characters – specifically his efforts to humanise them – that stands out. Tapping into the psychological pressures and skewed morality of the brokers and analysts, it helps make Margin Call a more trenchant treatise on the damaging culture of greed, arrogance and head-in-the-sand complicity than Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
Frequently overlooked whenever the giants of French cinema are discussed, director Jacques Becker provided a bridge between Jean Renoir and the young guns of the Nouvelle Vague – as evidenced by this 60th anniversary edition of Casque d’Or. A tragic love story set in the Belle Époque-era underworld, it has the lushness and humanism of the former and the energy and emotional directness that would characterise the work of François Truffaut and the like. It was also notable for giving Simone Signoret her international breakthrough, winning her an award from the British Film Academy and laying the groundwork for her Oscar-winning performance in Room at the Top. As a gorgeous gangster’s moll who falls for Serge Reggiani’s reformed criminal, she’s both luminous and tortured, torn by a desire to escape her life and the knowledge that by attempting to do so with the help of the man she now loves, she’s condemning him to a tragic fate. What’s most striking is just how subtly Becker evokes his themes, cleverly expressing the violence of the world via the full force of his protagonists’ love for each other.
• To order these DVDs, call The Scotsman on 01634 832789