Dir: Siegrid Alnoy. France. 2003. 100mins

A portrait of a woman ' indeed, a society ' on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Siegrid Alnoy's debut feature is ostensibly a variation on a familiar topic, but quickly establishes its vision with steely confidence. Coolly inventive and rigorous, Alnoy's debut is likely to make a modest stir on the specialised home market, but should enjoy considerable festival life; internationally, distributors looking for revelations at the more experimental end of the French spectrum are likely to lap it up. The film premiered out of competition at Cannes.

Alnoy's anti-heroine is Christine Blanc (Andres), a 35-year-old temporary office worker in the south-eastern mountain regions of France. Moving in and out of firms and eager for approval as a good worker, she seems to have no private life other than a distant relationship with her elderly parents, who believe she is living with an entirely fictional boyfriend. Christine has a yen to bond with Patricia (Mouchet), her contact at the temp agency, who at first spurns her too-eager overtures, but eventually warms to her and takes her swimming. Unfortunately, she chooses a day when Christine's psyche is unusually frayed, with violent results.

Surprisingly, this incident proves the turning point in Christine's life: she becomes more confident, finds herself embraced by her co-workers, is offered an executive post which she takes to with verve, even finding herself living with a young man from the firm. There is still unfinished business in her life, however, and she comes under scrutiny both from a chilly-eyed policeman (Brandt) and a young office intern (Caravaca), who appears to be stalking her.

The film is part of an ongoing cinematic critique of France's distinctively alienating work culture, recently dissected both in Laurent Cantet's Time Out and in Philippe Harel's Michel Houellebecq adaptation Whatever (Extension De La Domaine De La Lutte); some of the film's tropes echo earlier variations on that theme, notably Godard's. But this is very much a feminist contribution to the debate. As Christine Blanc's name suggests, she is a blank, with no apparent identity other than a drive to be accepted (the French title, literally translated as 'you are one of us', is taken from a bullishly convivial drinking song). The film's coldness and distance deliberately denies us any facile psychological insight about Christine, although it is implied that she is repressing her lesbian sexuality in her drive to conformity.

Stylistically, the film is mesmerising, with Christophe Pollock's poised photography making it teasingly uncertain how much we are seeing the world through Christine's sensibility. Every shot is striking, pushing the film's mundane setting into a mode of brittle anti-realism. Many shots, in fact, could be art-photography stills, but Alnoy never flaunts her stylistics. Every shot tells us something essential about Christine's relation to the world: for example, we see her picked out from a crowd behind the translucent glass of a bus shelter. The overall ominous chill is accentuated by Gabriel Scotti's subtly eerie electronic score.

As a social commentator, Alnoy has a keen eye for the brutalities and forced bonhomie of bureaucratic life, but never pushes the tone into outright satire. The film should put not only Alnoy on the map, but also lead actress Sasha Andres, whose performance is by turns inscrutable, touching and downright scary. If the film's critique of modern alienated living is not wholly new, its execution nevertheless shows Alnoy to be very much at the cutting edge of new French cinema.

Prod co: BC Films
Fr dist:
Ad Vitam
Beatrice Caufman
Siegrid Alnoy, Jerome Beaujour, Francois Favrat
Christophe Pollock
Benoit Quinon
Prod des
: Michel Vandestein
Gabriel Scotti
Main cast:
Sasha Andres, Carlo Brandt, Catherine Mouchet, Eric Caravaca, Daniel Ceccaldi