Jean-Pierre Darroussin head up this soulful French drama about unemployment and civic pride.
Though he hardly sends the heart a-flutter with his bland, almost featureless style of filmmaking, Robert Guédiguian offers plenty to mull over intellectually with this socially conscious morality play about false representations of the working class.
Inspired by the Victor Hugo poem ‘The Poor’, the film subtly challenges middle-class perceptions of those living on or below the poverty line. And as well as posing pertinent questions about how society at large can properly function if it lacks the ability to comprehend its own make-up, it also draws on the unavoidably messy existence of individuals, and how the course of one person’s life is often dictated by that of another.
Beloved dockyard union leader Michel (played by France’s most soulful screen presence, Jean-Pierre Darroussin) picks names out of a hat to announce the 20 men who will be made redundant on the back of some necessarycorporate downsizing. His own name comes up, and with a rueful quotation from French socialist hero Jean Jaurès, Michel empties his locker and slips off into the comfortable world of childcare, barbecues and bridge evenings that makes up early retirement.
He experiences a niggling sensation that he still has more to offer, but his life is altered when his home is invaded by a pair of masked, gun-toting assailants, and it’s not long before he discovers that one of the attackers is a labourer he recently sent out on his ear.
Though tonally a completely different beast, Guédiguian’s film plays like a sweeter, more tender beachside version of Michael Haneke’s Hidden. There’s a distinct similarity in the way the two films observe how our forced attempts to understand those less fortunate than ourselves can lead to bouts of crippling guilt and even force us to carry out uncharacteristic acts.
There is almost enough ambiguity within the text to forgive the soap opera banality of the technique (as well as repeated use of an appalling cover of ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ by Joe Cocker). But only just.
Robert Guédiguian is a veteran French film director, though his recent output has hardly been essential.
The kind of robust, issue-driven drama that the French seem to be able to punch out between breakfast and brunch.
Deeper than it first appears. And even playing a dullard, Darroussin dazzles.