Daniel Day-Lewis made one of the roles of his lifetime by playing an oil tycoon from the beginning of the ‘black gold fever.’ Stubborn, introverted, shrewd, the oil entrepreneur does not yield to either scepticism, or competition, not even the unnatural convergence of interests with religion. His first challenge is to obtain the lands targeted for extraction. To convince austere farmers, pioneers in a primitive world, imbued with often an ‘ad litteram’ biblical culture, sensible to charismatic sermons. Thus begins a ‘tragic’ clash between unstoppable capitalism and the preacher of spectacular repentance. The locals, who take contact with a new ‘natural formation’ – oil wells – must choose between the ambiguous benefits of the new industrial boom and the provocation of a religion arrogant in its pretended self-sufficiency. The epilogue of this clash is a murder, with obvious symbolic valences: the stern miner of the past, now heading an oil empire, massacres with resentment and cruelty the now pauperised preacher. Capitalism crushes the very humanistic vestiges of religion with which it had once struck an alliance of interest.
Replace America with a region of today’s Moldavia. Poor peasants, lands granted under concession for extraction, capitalist entrepreneurs, wells, charismatic priests. And violent conflicts. Because what we forget today is that violence consubstantial with the ethos of capitalism. So suggestively depicted by the film of Paul Thomas Anderson. Truth does nto correspond to the idyllic optimism specific to the advertising videos on the technical and social success of the exploitation of underground resources. Not everyone wins and, anyway, not everybody in the same measure. Some even lose more than others. It is true that, in the case of America, the economic-religious convergence was more natural, despite inherent contradictions. Max Weber issued the well-known thesis of the capitalism born out of protestant religion. The charismatic Orthodox preachers that visited Pungesti are more suspicious about advancing capitalism, which they do not see as amendable through repentance and instead associate it rather to an apocalyptic knight. The cause is a more agrarian mentality, which privileges the superiority of rural spirituality and the ‘organic character’ of the traditional society. A denunciation more conform to the intention of Upton Sinclair, whose novel `Oil!` inspired the movie, is that of the activists associated with the protesting peasants: capitalism impoverishes the beneficiaries of subsistence farming, turning them into the modern version of the urban proletariat described by Marx.
If we set aside this over-ideologised hermeneutic, we find that ‘rural proletarian’ well portrayed by another film, a Romanian one. Also inspired by a literature which pretends to be a social denunciation, the movie ‘Iacob’ by Mircea Daneliuc, made at the end of the communist epoch (1988), presents the tragedy of a gold miner from the Apuseni Mountains, caught in a fateful maze of suspicions. We can find ourselves in ‘Iacob” if we aspire to the benefits of neutrality, animated by the hopes characteristic to a mentality which we used to call ‘petty-bourgeois’ back in the past. An acceptance of social rules imposed by others who are more impetuous, a special need for anti-subversive security, an ethos which relies rather on envy than justice, an ambiguous morale of reward, a conformism based on the self-sufficiency of property – this is the profile of those who usually consider as more legitimate the action of a gendarme than that of a protester. But ‘Iacob’ falls in the ‘trap’ generated by the syncope of the system. Many of us risk finding ourselves in the tragic situation of ‘Iacob.’