"You know, I think it's about envy."—Mitt Romney, January 11, 2012
So I was watching this wonderful new print of Robert Bresson's final film, the magnificent L'argent, at Film Forum this afternoon, and as a peripheral mental exercise my imp brain started wondering what an American election-year conservative argument with the film might subsist of, and of course it would probably center, at least until the utterly non-negotiable ending, around protagonist Yvon's almost immediate turn to criminality once he loses his job, and of course around the notion that he actually gives up his job willingly, so to speak. That is, after the trial concerning the counterfeit notes (initially passed around by the teenage charmer seen above, and a buddy named Norbert) exonerates Yvon, the door is open for him to try to "explain" the situation to his former employers, but Yvon tells his wife that he's not about to go "crawling like a dog" to the bosses at the heating oil company. And this is the first of Yvon's sins: the sin of pride, and in case you have ever wondered why pride is considered a "deadly" sin, then, well, you absolutely ought to see this film. (Its run at the Film Forum, part of a fantastic Bresson retrospective, has its final day this Thursday, the 19th of January, but the Janus logo that opened the aforementioned wonderful new print—the screen cap above is from an old New Yorker Video DVD, made from less stellar material—indicates a Criterion edition of the film is in the future.) While Yvon's prideful gesture is easy to miss, it sets in motion all the further awfulness to come, but the point of including the gesture is not, I think, to condemn Yvon. Scenes coming a little after this show the ability of the film's better-off characters to pay off their sins, with money. The teen snot Norbert's mother buys the silence of the photo-store clerk who first took a fake 500 franc note with a discreet little envelope and a self-abasing (it seems) insistence; the punchline comes, of course, when the rich mom stands at the door expecting the clerk she's just bribed to hold it open for her. And of course the photo-store clerk rushes over to do exactly that. In this fallen world, money—"l'argent"—literally has the power to buy sin. And those without money have to work it off in other ways. Or maybe just sin more, and bigger. I imagine that when Mitt Romney talks about envy, there's a part of him that very deeply understands that that envy is not just over material goods, but also over a particular, um, standard of living.