Multinational corporations often use libel laws to hamstring their opponents, and no case is a better illustration than “The Clearstream Affair”. Based on the real-life exploits of investigative journalist Denis Robert, “The Clearstream Affair” dramatizes Robert’s decade-long court battle with financial powerhouse Clearstream and the tangled web of political and economic interests that thwart his pursuit of justice.
Robert (Gilles Lellouche) quits his job at the “Liberation” newspaper to work independently. His interest in money laundering and tax havens leads him to investigate Clearstream, a banking exchange corporation based in Luxembourg. He finds an ally in Judge Van Ruymbeke (Charles Berling), who opens an inquiry into Clearstream and its possible involvement in a kickback scheme between Taiwanese officials and French arms merchants. French intelligence also becomes a player when a list of secret accounts at Clearstream is published, and a presidential candidate appears to be complicit.
When Robert publishes several books about Clearstream’s participation in an international system that seeks to conceal capital, Clearstream and others retaliate by suing him for libel. Although he is found guilty by several of the lower courts, Robert takes his case all the way to the French Supreme Court which ultimately vindicates him. It is a bittersweet victory, however. As the real Denis Robert has acknowledged, nothing has been done to the change the financial system he attempted to expose.
The role of Denis Robert is a departure for actor Gilles Lellouche. Known for playing hotheads and philanderers, Lellouche demonstrates he can expand his range. Robert is an introspective and mature man with obligations to both his family and society. The problem with the film, as directed and co-written by Vincent Garenq, is that Robert never seems in genuine jeopardy. He lives in an expansive country home, drives a convertible, has a wife and two children, a respected career, all of which he retains throughout his battle with Clearstream.
Garenq began his career directing television documentaries. He is skilled at distilling and relating a complex story, but the visual imagery is lacking. In Michael Mann’s film “The Insider” (1999), the whistleblower opens his mailbox one day to be confronted by a bullet standing upright on its surface. “The Clearstream Affair” lacks a similarly striking visual image that conveys the menace to Robert.
“The Clearstream Affair” (AKA “L’enquete”) was released in 2015. The film is in French with English subtitles. The film is unrated but would probably qualify for a PG-13 rating due to some profanity. Available on DVD and streaming on iTunes, I watched “The Clearstream Affair” at my own expense.