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Bad behaviour in big business

Films spotlighting unethical corporate behaviour have scored strongly at the Berlin Film Festival.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2006 12:15 IST

Films spotlighting unethical corporate behaviour, executive greed and criminal mismanagement in big business have scored strongly with audiences and critics at the Berlin Film Festival.

"It is very important to check their power with films because there are many bad companies around," said French director Claude Chabrol after the worldwide premiere of his L'ivresse duPouvoir(Comedy of Power) on Thursday.

"Unfortunately you cannot have as many films about all the bad companies even if there are many such films out now because there are so many more corporations doing bad things," he said.

Chabrol's film, which he said was based on France's Elf oil company scandal, followed a popular festival entry "Syriana" on the global oil industry that starred George Clooney.

"I must admit that this film echoes the Elf affair in France," said Chabrol, whose movie stars Isabelle Huppert as a magistrate who puts corrupt executives in jail or forces them out of power. "I found the real case on TV so entertaining."

Clooney, whose movie won loud cheers, said heightened public interest in such issues was the reason for the spate of films.

"We've had big scandals all across the world," Clooney said in an interview, citing in particular the affair that led to the collapse of US energy trading firm Enron that affected tens of thousands of people and their savings.

"Italy had one of the biggest corporate scandals of all time, America had the biggest corporate scandal of all time," said Clooney.

"So I think the idea of talking about and pointing a finger at corporate scandals is always going to be fair game in terms of subject matter," he said.

CIA agent

In "Syriana", Clooney plays a CIA agent caught up in a global race for oil involving some of the world's biggest firms.

"I think society changed," he said. "People are talking about interesting issues, which is good."

Other recent films on big business include "Fun with Dick and Jane" that uses black humour to depict an Enron-style drama about a company called "Globodyne". Another is a documentary entitled "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room".

A 2004 documentary, "Super Size Me", took aim at McDonald's Corp over high-fat food and won an Oscar nomination. McDonald's removed "Supersize" french fries from its menu but said there was no connection to the film.

A new Swiss film "Grounding" recalled the 2001 demise of Swissair.

Chabrol's film took a dark look at the Elf affair, France's biggest corporate graft scandal. Three former bosses at Elf were sentenced to jail terms in 2003 and ordered to pay millions of dollars in fines and civil damages.

"I thought the whole thing was so hilarious," said Chabrol. "I thought a film could show how ridiculous (corrupt executives) are. They are very cunning but also very stupid."

After a nine-year investigation and trial peppered with tales of sleaze, political graft and high living, a Paris court sentenced former Elf chairman Loik Le Floch-Prigent and his deputy Alfred Sirven to five years' imprisonment each.

Overseas rights to a US documentary focusing on US retailer Wal-Mart were snatched up by distributors and television networks in many European countries where fears of US-style hire-and-fire practices run high.

The film argues Wal-Mart treats its employees shabbily in pursuit of maximum profit. Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, has said the film does not accurately portray the company and has labelled it propaganda.