Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A serious and honest examination of labor-management strife and its effect on a management
trainee, Human Resources takes us across familiar thematic material in a French
context. Filmmaker Laurent Cantet shows admirable restraint, avoiding the melodrama inherent
in the material.
Franck (Jalil Lespert) spends part of his last college year as a management
trainee at a metal fabricating firm in a rural province, the same factory where his father has
labored for thirty years. His different status soon isolates Franck from his local blue-collar
friends, and his relationship with his father only worsens when he proposes a direct-to-the-workers
questionnaire as a way of bypassing a management-labor roadblock. And when Franck discovers that his
sincere outreach concept has been co-opted as a tool against the worders, he rebels.
Human Resources is told with methodical and naturalistic simplicity, leading some reviewers to
label it a neo-realist work. "Son goes to work in his worker-father's company" sounds rather
contrived but Laurent Cantet's script soon defuses simple expectations. Young Franck succeeds all
too well, charming his bosses and coming up with ideas so good, even his controlling immediate
supervisor can't keep him down.
Franck is an idealist but is free of foolish illusions that all labor-management problems can be
solved. His employee referendum is advanced as a sincere attempt to lower the level of antagonism at
the small metalworking factory. But the truth he finds isn't encouraging. His own father is a
defeated prole suspicious of every proposed change and completely subservient to his
employer-masters. The labor organizers, represented by the obnoxious and combative Arnoux
(Danielle Mélador) scream in protest even before management can open their mouths. And
as Franck eventually discovers, his boss's praise and lofty promises mean nothing -
management will use the slight advantage from Franck's work to steamroll labor and launch tough
initiatives against the workers: layoffs, hourly reductions.
Outraged, Franck strikes back by blowing the whistle on le patron's treachery.
He welds the factory's front door shut and joins the strikers. His mother frets that he's thrown
away his career opportunity, but Franck is no longer interested in working for that company. He'll
return to Paris to find his way, an option his worker friends don't have. The picture ends
interestingly, with Franck pondering who if anybody he has helped, and if any good can come from
all the havoc he's set off.
Cantet is a smooth director who gets sensitive and natural performances from his cast. Jalil Lespert
is excellent, and his father (Jean-Claude Vallod) convincingly closed-off. To its credit, the film
avoids the expected father-son reconciliation, and there's not a hint of a romantic subplot.
Franck admits to his friends that that girl he used to see, he doesn't see anymore. The film instead
focuses entirely on the issue of justice in the work force - is it even possible? Modern business
doesn't seem to allow much in the way of dignity for employees, as anyone foolish enough to have
faith in his company is going to be chagrined when his loyalty is answered with empty promises.
As for the Franck character, he's more intelligent and humane than any of his management
superiors, but it doesn't make any difference. The hierarchical system quickly makes his kind conform
to the company line. "Creative" young hopefuls are often treated like company mascots to be
used and then discarded. Franck doesn't seem any more enamored of bull-headed labor attitudes as
he is of management. Hopefully he will escape back to Paris and better things.
Image's DVD is an acceptable but not exceptional transfer. This almost-new feature has been sourced
from a print with burned-in white subtitles, and looks like some VHS-quality foreign film from the
1980s. The non-enhanced image is grainy and doesn't hold up well on a large screen. The story and
main character are sufficiently interesting to offset the image quality, but just the same ...
The extra is an original trailer (with no subtitles) and a text sketch of the director's career.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Human Resources rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Good -
Supplements: Trailer, director profile
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 24, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson