WORK HARD, PLAY HARD (Violence des échanges en milieu tempéré)

(director/writer: Jean-Marc Moutout; screenwriters: Olivier Gorce/Ghislaine Jégou; cinematographer: Claude Garnier; editor: Marie-Hélène Mora; music: Silvain Vanot; cast: Jérémie Renier (Philippe Seigner), Cylia Malki (Eva), Hugo Paradis (Laurent Lucas), Olivier Perrier (Roland Manin), Samir Guesmi (Adji Zerouane), Martine Chevalier (Suzanne Delmas), Pierre Cassignard (Thierry Molinaro), Nozha Khouadra (Samia Zerouane), Dani (La mère d’Eva), Bernard Sens (Serge), Valérie Kéruzoré (Marine), Alain Rimoux (François Delhaye), Loïse Palenzuela (Louise); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Milena Poylo/Gilles Sacuto; ARTE France Cinema/Sundance Channel; 2003-France-in French with English subtitles)

“A compelling story about a decent young executive who can’t give up the power job he always dreamed of.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is a brilliant dramatization telling of the menace of working for a corporation; it’s by director and co-writer Jean-Marc Moutout in his feature debut. Its only problem is that it covers the same territory as Laurent Cantet’s 1999 Human Resources. It offers a compelling story about a decent young executive who can’t give up the power job he always dreamed of, as he’s lured into rationalizing as acceptable his company’s ruthless aims by his wily aggressive superior and ultimately is forced to choose this high-powered job over love. The ensemble cast is terrific, cowriters Olivier Gorce and Ghislaine Jégou provide a hard-hitting polished script, and it realistically and convincingly details a universal problem facing the modern worker in a highly competitive global market.

Philippe Seigner (Jeremie Renier) is the hand-chosen junior management efficiency expert of his hotshot boss Hugo Paradis (Laurent Lucas) at MacGregor’s Parisian consulting firm for a special project involving the preparation of a company for a secret takeover. He was chosen because the young man reminds the boss of himself at that age–ambitious, obsessed with the job, poor grades in college and from a humble background. Philippe’s sent out to the dull provinces to do an audit at the Janson metal factory, and flies back to Paris on the weekends. His mission is to interview the personnel at the plant and do research on the most effective way to downsize the workforce, which will ultimately mean laying off 80 workers. While there he’s friendless and stuck in a boring town for a single man, and is upset because he morally opposes the project. The film goes into subplots involving an Arab cafeteria chef and three factory bosses: hostile veteran foreman Roland Manin (Olivier Perrier) who knows the “audit” will leave him without a job and refuses to cooperate until ordered to do so by the plant owner; Suzanne Delmas (Martine Chevalier) is the feeling human resources manager, at her position for 17 years, who cares more about the workers under her than the audit but still is forced to cooperate; and oily plant supervisor Thierry Molinaro (Pierre Cassignard) who fully cooperates and promotes himself as being an asset for his managerial skills. They all fight in their own ways to survive the expected slaughter.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

While Philippe was in Paris, he picked up single mom Eva (Cylia Malki) while riding the Metro. She’s a temp office secretary worker, who for a short time was working in his same cold looking glass skyscraper office building. Eva lives with her young daughter Louise and her mom cares for the child while she works. They fall in love, but Eva questions how her sensitive lover can take on such a cold-hearted job and asks him to quit. When he doesn’t, she tests if he loves her more than his important money position by trying to get him to miss a party with MacGregor’s head honcho and stay with her sick daughter. He makes the wrong choice and in the end becomes part of the corporate system, giving up his search for truth for status, money, a possible trophy wife and creature comforts. The film was so well-conceived that even though we are led to believe he made the wrong choice, we can understand why he made that choice.

It was nominated for the Golden Leopard at the 2003 Locarno International Film.

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