When was the last time you watched a movie about steel factory workers and the 35 hour work week? From what I understand, it's not exactly a topic that fascinates the American imagination. Nonetheless, this French film, part of the Shooting Gallery series, is doing surprisingly well. I think the reasons for this are that it is made from the same stuff as the characters it portrays: it's quiet, resilient, and smart.
Frank (Jalil Lespert) returns to his home town after finishing college in Paris to take a summer job at the company that employed his father all his life -- and most of his friends and family, for that matter. Frank comes to his new position in the Human Resources department with all the best intentions, but he soon has to discover that his new function is a threat to the workers, including his father. The conflict builds slowly, and you can see it coming from a long way off, but this only makes it that much more devastating when it finally comes to a head.
I enjoyed Human Resources despite myself -- I didn't think that the topic would fascinate me nearly as much as it did. But the performances are gripping (all actors except for Jalil Lespert are non-professionals, and Frank's father is nothing short of stunning), and the visuals are strangely interesting. Not counting Dancer in the Dark, it's been a long time since anybody filmed the insides of a factory and made it look good. Laurent Cantet achieves a documentary look that gives the drama heightened intensity because it seems real.
Class, worker's issues, and unions are not particularly high on the list of topics that will grip a huge audience. They will occasionally feature in American films, but usually only if the workers are artists (such as in Tim Robbins' Cradle Will Rock), or if it ends with a rousing win for the underdogs. There isn't even a love interest in Human Resources. This is a film about normal people, overlooked people, and their resources -- their resilience, their quiet acquiesence, their power of survival and fight. The result is a touching and fascinating film about human resourcefulness that shouldn't be missed.
Directed by Laurent Cantet
Cast: Jalil Lespert
Jury Prize, 2000 Seattle International Film Festival Audience Award, 1999 Belfort Film Festival Prize of the Jury, 1999 Acapulco Film Festival Best Screenplay, 1999 Thessaloniki Film Festival Best Actor, 1999 Amiens Film Festival Best First Feature (Cipputi Prize), 1999 Amiens Film Festival New Directors Award, 1999 San Sebastian Film Festival