At War (En Guerre)
What would the amorphous Emmanuel Macron make of Stéphane Brizé’s furious political polemic on strike action? Like many depicted here, he would probably lend a sympathetic ear, make use of the bully pulpit, encourage an open mind and balanced negotiations. But best efforts cannot surmount our faceless overlords, those of market forces. You cannot dispute the logic of free economy or the reality of stock price. The factory will close.
Such a fatal narrative dominates this film. Vincent Lindon provides ferocity as Laurent Amédéo, the blunt, shouty union negotiator who must take on the might of Perrin Industries. The company wishes to shut down a plant, costing 1,100 jobs in the process. We follow a series tense stand offs, both agonistic and antagonistic, between the unions and against the corporations. Methods fail and succeed, all to a relative degree, only to delay the inevitable. The longer it goes on the more both sides have to lose. But there’s financial loss on one hand, human on the other. As the title suggests, this is full combat.
The use of a mock-documentary style, rolling news footage and apparently improvised conversations amplify the urgency. The thudding, ominous score ratchets up the blood pressure, the disappointments and deferments more brutal as they accumulate. Brizé’s commitment to minutiae of union negotiations is remarkable, the courtesy to the often tedious reality of speech admirable. But it overplays its hand at the end in search of a dramatic denouement. Laurent’s fortunes deteriorate, his abrasiveness that was once a virtue now a liability. It grounds you down eventually.
At War stands in the solid tradition of strike films: furious politics, relentless debate and meticulous research. Form imitates content. There’s a lot of talk, attrition and repetition, and not a lot of hope. Just like industrial action, then. The old French statists will revel in it, despite the unhappy conclusion. Macron? He would recognise the submission to hyper-rational technocracy, the removal of existential power and the diminished morality of public life. Just not sure what he would do about it.
At War (En Guerre) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
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