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'Human Resources'

'Human Resources' sees shades between bosses and workers

Friday, September 15, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

No wonder the tussles and tension between labor and management seem so real in the French film "Human Resources," now at Loews Waterfront as part of its Shooting Gallery series.


RATING: Unrated but PG-13 in nature

STARRING: Jalil Lespert

DIRECTOR: Laurent Cantet

CRITIC'S CALL: 2 1/2 stars


The people playing the roles are not actors, they are actual union leaders or company bosses. The filmmakers recruited nonprofessionals from unemployment agencies for all of the roles except one -- a business school student named Frank (Jalil Lespert). He gets an internship in the human resources department of the factory where his blue-collar father has worked for 30 years.

When Frank returns home from Paris, his parents are bursting with pride about his stint as a trainee. Frank and his father (Jean-Claude Vallod) walk to work, where the dad shares his routine. He and his friends arrive 15 minutes early, have coffee, tell a few jokes and then head to their lockers and machines on the factory floor.

Frank, clad in a handsome suit, works with the bosses in human resources, where the goal is to secure a 35-hour work week. A union firebrand named Mrs. Arnoux (Danielle Melador) suspects this is just another company ploy to cut benefits and pay. The proposed change is coming on the heels of 22 layoffs the previous year.

"No more sacrifices," she declares, although a cooler-headed union representative says workers would favor a reduced week if it meant the creation of jobs and better working conditions. Frank, relying on a case he studied in school, suggests to management that the bosses survey the workers about the reduced week.

Although Frank finds himself increasingly alienated from old friends, including one who accuses him of being a snob, he believes in the changes and his alliance with management. The boss even mentions a permanent job with another factory, but then Frank stumbles across a company memo about intended changes.

This secret missive is like a stick of dynamite as it explodes in the face of Frank, his father, other family members and plant employees. It peels away the surface skin and exposes long-buried feelings and frustrations, especially on the part of dangerously impulsive Frank. The explosion leaves scars, some of which appear permanent.

"Human Resources" ends, literally and figuratively, with a question. The conclusion, while thought-provoking, is also abrupt. Too abrupt. It's natural to crave some sort of resolution to the turmoil we've just witnessed on the home and factory fronts.

Still, this subtitled film directed and co-written by Laurent Cantet brings authenticity to its setting and subject matter. An illuminating moment comes when a man recalls his first day of work on the factory floor. Clad in blue coveralls, covered in grease and bending over a machine in a noisy, cavernous building, he thought, "Jesus, this is hell." But then he spotted Frank's dad, and watching the veteran cope helped him to cope, too.

It's a rare movie in the year 2000 that celebrates the working men and women who toil in factories and the white-collar aspirations they may have for their children. It's also a rare movie that examines the delicate dance of those who manage hourly workers one day and try to be one of them the next. It's a dance that requires an emotional dexterity not everyone possesses.

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