While times may have changed a bit, many countries, especially in the 1970’s up until the turn of the century looked down in disgust at those from the United States, from the way they looked, to way they acted, right down to the language they spoke. However, one of the things they most feared was that the US was going to take over their companies and do things the “American” way. Today, we take a look at a film called Mille Milliards de Dollars. In this film, we are introduced to the GTI, the Garson Texas International company, who are secretly taking over France Electronics, one of the biggest companies in Paris. It’s quite the scandal and should be a very interesting film. Let’s take a look.
We start the film with a call to the La Tribune switchboard. They are looking for Mr. Paul Kerjean (played by Patrick Dewaere), and it appears to be a personal call. Seems like the right time to put this person on hold and cue up the credits with some opening music. Kerjean seems preoccupied for a little while (or simply a clever way to play more credits) and finally answers the phone to hear a mysterious voice. The voice does not want to give his name, but wants to meet at a nearby parking garage to provide some very important information.
Hours later, Paul Kerjean meets the mysterious informant (played by Jean-Pierre Kalfon), who stays in his car to obscure his face. The informant asks, how well do you know Jacques Benoit Lambert? Kerjean knows a little, such as JBL runs France Electronics and is apparently very rich. As the informant points out, he is actually not rich, but rather, he has money. The electronics tycoon needs 750 million, and has apparently found it (how is part of the mystery). The meeting abruptly ends, but not before the reporter is able to write down the license plate of the mysterious informant. He hurries back to his office at La Tribune.
There he hands off the piece of paper with the license plate number to another coworker to find out who the car belongs to. He then visits Arlene (played by Jacqueline Doyen), who acts as a socialite for the magazine to find out about Jacques Benoit Lambert’s love life. She tells him that he has separated from his wife and has some action on the side. Looks like a trip to visit Mrs. Benoit-Lambert (played by Jeanne Moreau) is in order.
Paul and Mrs. Benoit-Lambert share a conversation. Kerjean tells the drunken wife that he is planning to write a big article on JBL and would like to hear her side of the affair. She somewhat reluctantly gives of an account of the man’s love life. However, when the conversation turns to the financial side of things, she puts a halt on the conversation, citing that this line of questioning is too personal for her tastes. She bids him adieu and then abruptly leaves for upstairs and perhaps more alcohol. The investigative reporter takes this opportunity to go through her desk and finds pictures taken of JBL’s affair along with the name and address of the private detective, Walter.
Mr. Kerjean meets with Walter (played by Charles Denner) to discuss the photos he took of the affair. However, Paul sees something more interesting in the photos than simply the lady that JBL was with, and that’s some very important-looking men. He pays Walter for the negatives so he can develop his own pictures for the investigation. It is at this point he receives word that the license plate information has come back to one Sam Bronsky, and an address has been provided. The problem is that when he gets to the address, there is no Sam Bronsky living there, only his wife (played by Edith Scob) and her son.
Despite the license plate number being a dead end, Paul Kerjean is able to find another way forward in his investigation. He is able to identify one Fred Great (played by Jacques Francois), who works for GTI, Garson Texas International. Apparently, this American mega-corporation has been finding their way into various countries’ economies by taking over companies such as France Electronics. Mr. Paul Kerjean must proceed carefully if he hopes to get close enough to this company and not find himself and his family in grave danger.
I did mention family; Mr. Paul Kerjean, much like Jacques Benoit Lambert, is somewhat estranged from his own wife, Helene (played by Caroline Cellier). They also have a son, Bastien Kerjean (played by Camille Clavel). Those two characters become much more important towards the end of the movie. Also of note is the president of GTI, Cornelius Abel Woeagen (played by Mel Ferrer), who plays a rather convincing piece of corporate trash who is willing to step on anyone he can to increase the shareholder price of his company. In one of his lines, he actually wants to put the final share price on the day of his death on his tombstone so future presidents and managers can compare once a year to current stock prices. I bet you his wife and family are absolutely thrilled.
Anyway, the film is brilliantly acted. Patrick Dewaere does a fantastic job of leading this film and is absolutely the best thing about this film. He commands every scene he is in and gives an absolutely smashing performance as the investigative reporter. To be frankly honest, it’s almost too good sometimes, as those around him have a little bit of trouble keeping up. That is not to say the supporting characters fade into the background, but rather to say he does justice to his role.
The most obvious elephant in the room that will deter a lot of American viewers is the extremely negative view of American capitalism. At this time of global history, it was true that American corporations were grabbing many international companies and re-purposing them into their own. But the same could be said of other nations doing the same to the United States now, especially with China. It is a very one-sided view, but at the same time creates the atmosphere for a great villain. Furthermore, with the way the ending works out, it sends the intended audience home happy with practically a bow tied on the situation. (A far different contrast to the film ending for I … For Icarus.)
The director, Henri Verneuil, does an good job of directing, but much like I … For Icarus, he seems to be copying the French response to an American piece of history. GTI is a lot like GSI, which was a Texas company that would later become what we know as Texas Instruments. If the viewer looks into that company’s history once they have finished this movie, I think they will find a lot of parallels here, and it’s not by coincidence.
The video is in its original presentation of 1.66:1 widescreen. One would think that a magazine office back in the 80’s would look like 57 shades of black and white, not with as much color and detail as the offices of La Tribune. Though interesting enough, there is a contrast between the magazine office and a local newspaper office (and I believe that was done on purpose). This is a wonderful looking picture. There is so much vibrancy at every corner, and not in only the office either. Many times with these kind of films, when the focus is on someone such as Kerjean, very little attention is given to the filming locations and supporting characters. That is not the case, and this Blu-ray really lends itself to the absolute depth and color to every location setting. It’s one of those movies where one wants to chew up the scenery of every boardroom, museum, and other filming locations. It’s honestly a shame that Henri Verneuil liked 1.66 for his filming, but at the same time it does put attention on the little details in the smaller environments.
The audio for this one is DTS-HD MA 2.0 in French. Optional subtitles are also provided in English. This is a very talkie-talk type film. There is very little in the ways of environment or even a decent musical score (I do have to admit the piano opening was kind of inspired) to really latch onto here. The dialog is clear, the subtitles did not sport any issues I could find (my French is still very rusty despite the fact I have reviewed three French films now in a row), and it certainly does the job, but it is not going to be one that you will remember the sound quality for. I mean, there are no crackles or hisses I could detect, but it’s hard to judge an older dialog-driven type of film.
- Trailers: Mille Milliards De Dollars, The Sicilian Clan, The Body of My Enemy, I … For Icarus, Gorky Park, and The Package.
- Audio Commentary featuring Samm Deighan: By this point after three other commentaries, I feel I know Samm’s style of commentary pretty darn well. She is informative as always, giving us great bits of information about American capitalism and how the French felt about it in the late 70’s and early 80’s. She also goes on about facts about the film and the actors which makes this a very detailed commentary to dive into after you watch it the first time.
Patrick Dewaere unfortunately committed suicide in the same year as this film came out, shortly after his girlfriend, Elsa Chalier, left him for his best friend. He suffered from depression as well as addiction from various drugs. It’s extremely unfortunate when anyone takes their life, but I enjoyed his role in this film quite a bit. He does a great job and is very likeable, charismatic, and commands each scene he is a part of. From 1977 until his final year, he was nominated five times at the Cesars’ (France’s Academy Awards) for Best Actor. Taken way too soon, like so many young actors and actresses.
Kino does their usual good job here of bringing us a film that not many on this shore have probably seen and does great work on the transfer as well as the audio. We also get another thoughtful commentary from Samm Deighan, who seems to be the go to for Kino lately when it comes to foreign films. Mille Milliards de Dollars is a wonderful, even if it does suffer from holding to the stereotype of American capitalism as evil. It is very much recommended, especially if you appreciate Henri Verneuil or Patrick Dewaere. I personally hope to check out more of Dewaere’s films in the future. Enjoy.