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The 35-hour work week has all of France in its thrall. This film turns it into a feature about economic and familial politics. Frank, a business school graduate, returns to his provincial hometown to take a management position in the factory where his father has been working for 30 years. First Frank makes the mistake of actually asking the workers on the assembly line for their opinions. Then upper management manipulates his findings to lay off employees. This creates a huge rift, not only between labor and management, but between father and son. A human morality tale that evokes paternal and filial love, and illustrates the personal risk behind political ideas. Written by
A powerful, heartbreaking drama, well acted and realistic. ***1/2 (out of four)
HUMAN RESOURCES / (1999) ***1/2 (out of four)
By Blake French:
The powerful, heartbreaking new French drama "Human Resources," written by Laurent Cantet and Gilles Marchand, is so authentic the only true professional actor in the cast is Jalil Lespert, who plays Franck, the son of a workaholic. The rest of the performers were chosen from unemployment organizations in regard to the business the characters would have to play. "The title "human resources" is first of all a reaction against the cynicism of that expression," explains director Laurent Cantet in an interview. "A human being is administered the same way you would administer stocks or capital." After watching this film we understand what he means by those words.
The working characters employed by a personnel division factory where Franck's dad is currently employed. He has been working there for thirty years and is happier when his son is emotionally further apart from him. Franck has defied his family heritage, went to college, and has recently returned to the French home where his parents live. He gets a job as a manager at the company in which his father works. This is where he becomes torn between business opportunities and staying loyal to his principles of fairness and morality. The people at the factory treat the workers like machines, and it is then when he understands "human resources" refers to people as variables in the production flow graphs.
Director Laurent Cantet is not from a working class family, as cleared up in a press kit, so these skillful and wise foreign filmmakers decided to get ideas confirmed by those who did live that life. The parts of the factory workers are played by actual workers; the boss is a real boss; the union leader is a real union leader. The film is also shot in an authentic working factory, as if a documentary was in the creation. Cantet was absolutely correct: who better to imitate the positions and postures of a worker's body bent over a factory machine, or especially the language itself, much of which was selected the workers themselves. The factory's supervisors are cutting back, and Franck gets the privilege of listening to the suggestions that a recent questionnaire asks. The questionnaire is to help make the employers, who are drained of most consciousness on the job, feel they are important to the success of the corporation. Then, while snooping around on the boss's computer, Franck finds the questionnaire is nothing but a pretense for upcoming layoffs, that of which his father is on the list. While Franck is furious at the deceptions, his father refuses to even go on strike after learning of his fate-he is simply to used to consistence and routine, he fears change.
The movie is more about the inner struggle between Franck and his father than the actual protesting by the employees or how the factory supervisors fight back. American movies are not often about factory workers, and when they are, the subject is more parody, like in "Officer Space" (1999), than class struggle. One of the best arguments this movie makes is that class struggle is still alive today, and has a high impact of various societies. There are other themes in "Human Resources": greed and power, communication between Franck and his family, the father-son association he has with his boss, finding one's place in society, and shame and regret.
"Human Resources" is of the most penetrating films of the year; it offers descriptive writing and empathizing characters. Shot in a documentary style, the direction is focused and sincere, and the performances are mesmerizing. The only thing keeping it from perfection is the somewhat slow-moving script that occasionally strays idle when some of the most important events take place. Beyond that, however, "Human Resources" is a must-see if you are a fan of original, reality theme-based dramas.
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