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HUMAN RESOURCES (Ressources Humaines) (director/writer: Laurent Cantet; screenwriter: Gilles Marchand; cinematographers: Claire Caroff/ Mathieu Poirot-Delpech; editor: Robin Campillo; cast: Jalil Lespert (Franck), Jean-Claude Vallod (Father), Chantal Barre (Mother), Didier Emile-Woldemard (Alain), Danielle Mélador (Danielle Arnoux, Union Rep), Veronique de Pandelaere (Sylvie), Michel Begnez (Olivier), Lucien Longueville (Le patron); Runtime: 100; Shooting Gallery; 1999-France)
“A most interesting work by first time director Laurent Cantet.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Franck (Jalil Lespert) is a recent business college grad in Paris and returns home as a management internship summer trainee in his father’s Normandy machinist factory, where his father (Jean-Claude Vallod) has worked for the past 30 years. Franck’s job is in the human resource department, where he acts as management’s liaison with labor. The metalwork factory plans to switch over to a controversial new 35-hour work week. The union reps led by the communist radical Danielle Arnoux (Danielle Mélador) do not trust the boss’s opinion that this has to be done in order to avoid the plant closing down, they think it’s a ploy to cut workers and wages.

This simple but fulfilling film about how a factory operates and negotiates a labor disagreement, is anything but boring. It is a well-crafted and powerful film showing the volatile emotions erupting among the different classes that make up a factory.

The pivotal conflict in the plant will arise when Franck brings the knowledge he learned in business-college to the workplace. Franck believes he can work something out to satisfy everybody, and has management sidestep the union by offering the workers a referendum in the form of a questionnaire about the 35-hour work week. Franck naively thinks the plant’s boss, Mr. Rouet (Lucien Longueville), will be fair-minded and try to work out an arrangement that is acceptable to both sides. But the boss is only pleased that this referendum has split the union and isolated the argumentative Arnoux from the workers.

When Franck uses his boss’s computer, he comes across a letter stating that after the 35-hour week will be implemented there will be 12 workers fired including his father. Franck is conflicted about what to do, whether to keep quiet and get the high paying job in another factory his boss promised him or tell the union to save his father’s job. His father is antiunion and believes in not making waves. The father’s quite content to come to work every day and work on his machine. He has no spirit left to fight for anything, and is pleased that he and his wife (Chantal Barre) made the sacrifices for his son to move up in social class. He’s willing to go along with anything the bosses have in mind, even being fired. In the brilliant opening scene, the father proudly shows his son how the machine he operates works and how efficiently he performs on it. He also advises his son to keep his opinions to himself and to defer to the boss.

So when Franck is confused about what to do realizing if he goes against the boss it will be hard for him to get another job in management, he talks to the young black worker Alain (Didier Emile-Woldemard) who works next to his dad. Alain likes his dad because when he first started, his father helped him adjust to the machine. But when he chooses to save his father’s job over promoting his own career, his parents are not pleased with his decision.

The cast of mostly nonprofessional actors (Lespert and Vallod are the notable exceptions), affect a realistic feeling to the drama and help emphasize how universal this human interest story is. The film always remains compelling and the action taken by Franck has a hint of personal subtlety to it as he confronts his father, at last, and tells him he never respected him and was always ashamed of the kind of menial work he did. But, on the other hand, there’s a real love he has for him. This is a very convincing melodrama with political overtones. The performance by Jean-Claude Vallod is outstanding, his timid facial expressions and the way he walks with a stoop link him to the machine he has put his whole life into. He’s a good guy, but he has reached a point where he can’t see anything but the monotony of life. The future is in the hands of his son and what awaits him next is the real dilemma this film presents. A most interesting work by first time director Laurent Cantet, who won the San Sebastian Film Festival New Directors Award for best first feature.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”