Tax Me If You Can
(France, 114 min.)
Dir. Yannick Kergoat
Programme: The Changing face of Europe (North American Premiere)
It seemed genius at the time. When Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren argued that taxing the 1% a paltry .01% more could solve all of America’s economic problems, without the wealthy feeling a thing, it made so much sense. Problem is, the rich, assisted by their accountants, don’t report their income in ways that reflect their wealth. Remember when Donald Trump said he didn’t pay taxes because he was smart?
Corporations are even worse. Canny consultant firms who specialize in tax evasion, especially Price Waterhouse, Deloitte, Ernst and Young and KPMG, help business entities hide their money in tax havens to the tune of an estimated $600 billion a year, enabling them to underreport their earnings drastically. Governments under fire for underfunding education and health care–the heat was on high during the COVID pandemic–insist there is no magic money available. Except there is, hiding in those tax havens.
This corporate corruption is charted with exquisite detail in Yannick Kergoat’s documentary designed to up the outrage among those of us whose buying power shrinks while that of the rich expands exponentially. Kergoat and his scriptwriter, journalist Denis Robert, dig deep into the growing crisis, tracking governments’ feeble attempts to make corporations like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Ikea accountable, literally. It doesn’t help that corporate CEOs are expert at obfuscation, as demonstrated often here, or that politicians, including 128 political leaders, have been found in cahoots with the companies, themselves financially rewarded for their fealty to big business. In the meantime, while pretending to make the banks accountable for shielding the cash, governments bail out the banks, who in turn collaborate with the cheaters in a circle of toxic tax evasion.
Via interviews with whistle blowers and expert researchers, the film, when not showering us with statistics and data, notes the many debates and difficulties surrounding these very sophisticated tax dodges: They’re legal, if not moral. They are supported by anti-tax activists of which there are many, particularly in the United States. Doing anything about them vexes those who argue that chasing after tax evaders constitutes an invasion of privacy. And by the way, the relevant tax havens can be found not only in Panama, Bermuda and Granada but in Ireland, Luxemburg and American states such as Nevada.
This documentary constitutes a powerful reprimand of corrupt capitalism but it is also extremely demanding. Kergoat delivers a dizzying array of statistics that can sometimes be overwhelming. Joris Clerté’s relatively simple animation is there to break up the talking heads but it doesn’t really amplify the data or add much insight. It’s the brilliant experts that make this movie so essential.
See it but be prepared to pay close attention when you do.