Dir. Mathias Gokalp. France. 2009. 90 mins
Corporate misdemeanours in a climate of economic recession provide the basis of a mild-mannered satire in Nothing Personal (Rien De Personnel). The first feature from Mathias Gokalp after a number of acclaimed shorts couldn’t be more timely but is rarely more than mildly amusing. It suffers from both monotonous pacing and a straitjacket structure based around the borderline tedium of repetition and the revisiting of key events. Topicality and an engaging ensemble cast might give it a fighting chance on its domestic release but international prospects are more likely to be restricted to Festival screenings rather than sales.
Using chapter headings like The Newcomer, Married Life and All Together, the film unfolds during a swanky corporate event designed to build team confidence and negotiating skills. A nervous Bruno (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) seems to believe he is fighting for his job and confides to union representative Bergerat (Denis Podalydes) that he is still on extended probation under a short term contract that is certainly immoral even if it is not illegal. We are later to discover that Bruno is an actor playing a role that is designed to create conflict and challenge members of the management team.
Rumours begin to circulate that boss Philippe Muller (Pascal Greggory) has plans for thirty redundancies intended to create a lean, mean entity ready to be sold off . Natacha (Melanie Doutey) is among those who start to suspect there is something bigger happening than a contrived exercise in corporate management. Fear and loathing spread as individuals begin to imagine the worst scenarios, guilty secrets are exposed, defiant gestures are made and everyone starts to work from the basis of self-preservation.
Nothing Personal has all the ingredients for a classic helter-skelter farce, but it is played at a lugubrious, unvarying monotone that tends to flatten much of the potential sparkle in the material. The humour is decidedly dry and consequently the film takes a long while to warm up. It just seems to be getting into its stride by the third time some of the original events have been revisited.
There are occasions when Gokalp appears to be mining the same vein of deadpan corporate comedy as Lars Von Trier in his commercial flop The Boss Of It All and viewers may well conclude that they have derived more pleasure from a single episode of the British or American version of the television comedy The Office.
A strong cast work hard to give the film a growing degree of charm. Jean-Pierre Darroussin brings a hangdog insouciance to the role of Bruno, making him credible as a figure of nervous, sweaty anxiety and a more cynical performer. The sheer energy and invention of Denis Podalydes finds comic inspiration in even the most unpromising of incidents and he provides some of the sharpest laughs in the film. Mathias Gokalp appears to be working in the same tradition as Agnes Jaoui and Daniele Thompson but on the evidence of Nothing Personal he still has some way to go before turning his promise into anything on the same level as their past achievements.
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Jean-Marc Tran Tan Ba