Dir. Jean-Marc Moutout. France/Belgium. 99 min.
Another addition to the rapidly growing number of French films dealing with economic globalisation and its various ways of affecting human condition, Jean-Marc Moutout's feature debut may not reach the high standards established by outstanding films like Human Resources or L'Emploi Du Temps. But by using a specific example, the takeover of one industrial complex by another and the inevitable upheaval and redundancies, and by stating its case in clear and simple terms, the film paints a faithful portrait of the crisis that has been shaking the foundations of Western society. It is true that Moutout's often didactic approach fails to render the full proportions of the predicament inflicted on unsuspecting victims who find themselves, through no fault of their own, expendable human rejects. But the topicality of the film's timing, with labour unrest in France and other European countries, will draw public attention and secure more festival invitations, although a theatrical career outside France is not certain.
Philippe (Renier), a young business management graduate, joins MacGregor, a Parisian Management Consultancy company, specialising in mergers and re-profiling industries for better profit, less expenses and higher efficiency. In a major step to forward his career, he is assigned to assist the company's leading head-hunter Hugo Paradis (Lucas) and dispatched to do an audit on a company that is about to be taken over by another, with a view to deciding which operations need to be down-graded or shut down.
The next inevitable step is a similar survey of the employees, to select who will fit in with the new changes, who is worth training for it, and who will be put out to pasture. Being a basically decent fellow, Philippe can accept the first part of his job, dealing with industrial structures, but balks at the second, trimming human resources, which requires more personal involvement. But his scruples melt under pressure and the killer instinct of his immediate boss proves a source of inspiration. Whatever misgivings he might have had, at the end Philippe joins the ranks of MacGergor's head hunters, chanting their firm's holy mantra of "Work Hard, Play Hard".
The script's basic schema divides the world in two; on the one side are the simple, nice, eventually weak and less than perfect people, doing their best to keep themselves and their families afloat. On the other side is a cold, ruthless machine and its lackeys, wearing their metal-blue suits, who are motivated by one thing only; more profit. For them humans are no more than spare parts, easily replaceable or thrown out, as need may be.
There is also a love story to flesh the plot out, in which Philippe's girl friend (Malki) comes up with the standard emotional arguments against his work, including, among other things, scientific efficiency research done in a manner that should imply the inhumanity of the entire process and interviews with various workers revealing many of the dramatic conditions generated by the open market economy, that the new streamlined society refuses to take into consideration. Once again, trees are cut for the good of the forest, ignoring the fact that soon there will be no forest left.
Shot and cut cleanly and efficiently, Moutout is served by a cast that often transcends the classical stereotypes it is entrusted, in particular Laurent Lucas as the cold-blooded shark going every time for the jugular and almost making perfect sense of it. Which may be the picture's weakest point. The arguments in favour of producing the bloody economic miracles reported in the media seem much stronger than the ones opposing it, such as appealing to the consciences of people who obviously have none or waving vague threats of labour unrest. There must be something better than this.
Prod co: TS Productions, Arte Cinema, Rhone-Alpes Cinema, Les Films de L'Etang
Prods: Mylena Poylo, Gilles Sacuto
Int'l sales: Flach Pyramide International
Fr dist: Les Film du Losange
Prods: Mylena Poylo, Gilles Sacuto
Scr: Olivier Gorce, Jean-Marfc Moutout, Ghislaine Jegou-Herzog
Cinematography: Claude Garnier
Ed: Marie-Helene Mora
Prod des: Andre Fonsny
Music: Sylvain Vanot
Cast: Jeremie Renier, Laurent Lucas, Cylia Malki, Olivier Perrier, Samir Guesmi, Martine Chevalier, Pierre Cassignard, Nozha Khouadra, Dani