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Human Resources

Human Resources
Image Entertainment
1999 / Color / 1:66 flat letterbox / 100 min. / Ressources humaines / Street Date August 3, 2004 / 29.95
Starring Jalil Lespert, Jean-Claude Vallod, Chantal Barré, Véronique de Pandelaère, Michel Begnez, Lucien Longueville, Danielle Mélador
Cinematography Matthieu Poirot-Delpech
Production Designer Romain Denis
Film Editor Robin Campillo, Stephanie Leger
Written by Laurent Cantet and Gilles Marchand
Produced by Caroline Benjo, Barbara Letellier, Carole Scotta
Directed by Laurent Cantet

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 -
Sound: Good
Supplements: Trailer, director profile
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 24, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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