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A Brutal Debt Collector's Story Wins Golden Lion At Venice Film Festival

By Countercurrents.org

10 September, 2012

It seems mainstream has started recognizing brutal debt collectors and their mind, a reflection of inhumanity. Even the Venice Film Festival has lent its eyes, ears and mind to the brutalities of debt collectors, which has long been ignored by many. South Korean film Pieta , about a brutal debt collector, has won the Golden Lion award at the Festival.

It seems Hugh Sinclair, the Microfinance Heretic, is reverberating everywhere, from the East to the West, from South Korea to Venice . South Asia including India is not an isolated case.

A BBC report headlined “South Korean film Pieta wins at Venice Film Festival” on September 9, 2012 said:

Pieta , directed by Kim Ki-duk, centres on a debt collector, who is forced to examine his life as a woman turns up claiming to be his mother.

On accepting his award, Ki-duk sang a song to the audience while thanking the jury.

Speaking after, he said: "This is a song that we Koreans sing when we are sad, when we feel alone, when we feel desperate, but also when we're happy."


Reporting on the debt collector's story, Colleen Barry/ Associated Press wrote, datelined Venice, Italy, Sept. 08 and headlined “Venice Film Festival: 'Pieta,' 'The Master' win awards”, in MercuryNews.com on Sept. 9, 2012:

Pieta , the brutal story of a debt collector who cripples those who can't pay until he meets a woman who claims to be his mother, won the Golden Lion for best film at the Festival.

Pieta follows a young debt collector he goes about his business maiming debtors until his ruthless course is interrupted by a stranger who claims to be his mother. His acceptance of his mother weakens his resolve to brutally collect the debts, leaving him vulnerable to revenge.

South Korea 's news agency Yonhap called Pieta "a bruising but wisely woven drama (that) plainly shows how money can destroy humanity and create hellish interpersonal relationships."

Pieta is the Italian word for pity, but also applies to the artistic image in sculpture or painting of the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus, evoking a mother's love for her son.


Xan Brooks' report in guardian.co.uk on Sept. 9, 2012 was headlined “ Venice film festival demotes The Master to grant Pieta top prize”. Brooks' report said:

The Master was mastered on the closing night of the festival as an explosive tale of poverty and violence from South Korea upset the favorites to claim top prize. Pieta , directed with gusto was named the winner of this year's Golden Lion award by jury president Michael Mann.

Taking its name from Michelangelo's statue of Mary cradling the body of Christ, Pieta is an anguished religious allegory, focusing on the antics of a brutish loan-shark (Lee Jung-jin) and the woman who arrives out of nowhere, claiming to be his long-lost mother. Refusing to believe her, the loan shark promptly severs his own toe and orders the woman to eat it as a test of her love. Kim's film was described as the "shock film" of this year's event by the Italian paper La Repubblica and polarized critics at the preview screening. The director later dedicated his movie to "humankind, in a situation of a deep crisis in extreme capitalism."


Debt today haunts millions of population. The issue is now unavoidable. About two months ago, on July 11, 2012 Common Dreams posted an article by Hugh Sinclair with the heading “The Wolf Is Guarding the Sheep: Why Microfinance Needs Regulation Too”.

Hugh Sinclair is an economist and former investment banker. He has spent the last decade working in microfinance in Latin America, Asia and Africa . He has worked with various microfinance banks, peer-to-peer organizations, microfinance investment funds, rating agencies and investors, and currently works as a consultant. He is author of Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic: How Microlending Lost Its Way and Betrayed the Poor ( Berrett-Koehler , San Francisco , July 2012)

The article said:

[T]he microfinance sector remains almost entirely immune from any oversight. The US general public generously lend to poor people in developing countries via lending platforms and specialized microfinance funds in the belief that their money is being used to help. Evidence to date challenges this belief. While the SEC appeared largely incapable of regulating the financial service sector in the US , it is either ridiculous or naive to the extreme to believe that the microfinance sector is somehow unaffected by the warped motivations that led us to the current mess. Philanthropy may encourage individuals to invest in microfinance, but there is no assurance that those managing the funds are as principled.

Microfinance faces mounting criticism. […] A string of client suicides and cases of forced prostitution in India under the pressure of aggressive microfinance banks did little to improve the reputation of the industry. The microfinance sectors of entire countries have collapsed, perhaps most spectacularly in Nicaragua . Academic evidence is rapidly disputing the claims of poverty reduction following a $100 loan, and yet the US general public continues to provide the fuel for these fires with zero protection from the SEC, reassured only by the vague promises of self-regulatory bodies largely run and financed by, you guessed it, the microfinance funds. The wolf is guarding the sheep.

If microfinance really is a new asset class it should be regulated as such. Vast profits from over-hyped IPOs, most notably in India and Mexico , have yielded phenomenal returns for a few lucky players. The profit incentive, ever present where Wall Street operates, drives the financial sector of the planet. Regulators intervene to limit the damage such incentives can potentially have on vulnerable or uninformed citizens. The recent financial meltdown demonstrated the damage reckless profiteering can have on individuals, and entire countries. Apparently, when a US citizen lends $100 to a poor Nigerian woman through Kiva or the microfinance fund of some Wall Street behemoth, neither the US citizen nor the Nigerian woman requires regulatory oversight. Is it any surprise abuses occur?

US-based NGO Accion netted a tidy $270 million profit in the IPO of Compartamos, a Mexican microfinance bank that charges up to 195% in interest to the poor women of Mexico . Kiva invested $5 million, predominantly from the US general public, into a Nigerian bank that was charged interest rates of 126% and operating beyond the confines of even Nigerian banking law. Kiva users preferring to finance activities in Latin America could chose businesses as diverse as cock-fighting or coca leaf vendors, despite both being illegal under California State law. In the case of the questionable Nigerian bank, Kiva and various funds did eventually withdraw their investments once the media began investigating. The question is how, and why, did they invest in the bank in the first place? They either knew what was going on, or had no idea – it is not clear which is worse.

That microfinance can be profitable is well known, but less well known is the number of children of so-called micro-entrepreneurs who are removed from school to stack shelves or sell wares in their parents businesses, often in contravention the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We are told loans are used to finance entrepreneurial activities. Estimates of the proportion that is used for pure consumption are as high as 90%. Does this appear remotely transparent?

If microfinance is to survive the current wave of criticism, and improve its abysmal track record on poverty reduction, it appears that increased regulation might be a wise place to start. Those most vehemently against such regulation, the free-market devotees, will naturally resist such measures. But if we genuinely believe the poor deserve to participate in the financial services we take for granted, we should afford them the regulatory protection we also take for granted. Regulating the financial services sectors of developing countries is cumbersome, so perhaps instead we should regulate the microfinance funds and lending platforms in Europe and the US . This may reduce the atrocities practiced by the less scrupulous practitioners in the field, if their source of funding is jeopardized each time a client is forced into prostitution to service a loan; and it may reassure the general public that their funds are being deployed wisely rather than exploitatively.































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