The French Institute Alliance Française is currently spotlighting Quebecois Cinema; if you’re planning on walking out of class symbolically today or anything, the 2008 documentary Encirclement: Neo-Liberalism Ensnares Democracy plays today at 12:30 and 4.
Richard Brouillette’s Encirclement is stark diagnosis of a pandemic of neoliberal capitalism (via IMF, World Bank, WTO, etc), positing that its ability to replace capital-P political ideology is key to understanding its pervasiveness. Although it is by no means not a polemical film, its approach couldn’t be further from the Spurlock-Ferguson-Moore-Greenwald school of docs, where every interview doubles as a filmmaker’s personal campaign commercial; Brouillette’s greatest asset is his bottomless faith in the spoken word. Here, he’s assembled a sagacious roster—Noam Chomsky, Ignacio Ramonet, Jean-Luc Migué, Omar Aktouf, and many more—and he fearlessly lets them expound in a passionate, free-flowing conversation on economics, culture and totalitarianism (or, more specifically, “globalitarianism”). It’s heady stuff, no doubt, and even though Brouillette cleaves the conversations into tidy explanatory chunks, the result can be head-spinning.
The speakers essentially delineate the history of free trade after World War II, from the foundation of the aforementioned international organizations to the newfound consideration (thanks to guys like Friedrich Hayek and John Maynard Keynes) of economics as a “neutral” or “scientific” practice. That’s a classification that more than one interviewee dismisses as bullshit, along with the idea that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” was ever intended as a means of regulating world commerce. There’s scrupulous discussion of the ascendancy of think tanks as liaisons between government and commerce, of unfair price controls set by Washington firms that can devastate entire economies in the so-called “global South”, and of the implicit irony in “privatization”—that is, taking something out of taxpayers’ hands and putting it to commerce—as a force for democracy. Susan George offers: “the great 18th-century theoreticians never imagined that capital itself would be free to go where it wanted.”
Brouillette and company make broader philosophical claims as well; one title card refers to “a sprawling network of mind control” as the reason for capitalism’s worldwide victory. Examples are posited closer to home, such as one claim that Channel One News—whereby schools unable to afford televisions were granted TVs and VCRs on condition of playing 12 minutes of corporate-sanctioned infotainment a day—was a ploy to transform American tweens into obedient, measurable units of media-consumptive power. Chomsky lets the air out of “military humanist” triumphs like the 1995 signing of the Dayton Accords, which took place thousands of miles away from anything resembling a Bosnian popular vote, and cites governments’ popular vocabulary of “liberation” as nothing new. Only a fool would argue that political individualism hasn’t been quelled by the last 65 years of globalization, but Encirclement’s main argument will resonate more or less depending on how deliberate you think the process has actually been.