Human Resources (review)

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Franck (Jalil Lespert) returns from university in Paris to his parents’ home for the summer to take a management internship at the factory where his father has worked for 30 years. Mom (Chantal Barré) loves seeing her son in a suit; Dad (Jean-Claude Vallod) is disconcerted to discover that he’s losing Franck to Rouet (Lucien Longueville), the factory’s chief exec and father-figure to the young man; and Franck gets grief from his childhood friends, who think he’s turned into a Parisian snob. The tension and dissension between worker dad and educated, intellectual son — and between the very different worlds of laborers and professionals — will reach a breaking point as Franck helps the factory management implement some policies labor contentiously disagrees with. Screenwriter/ director Laurent Cantet’s naturalistic film captures the recognizable ordinariness of middle-class people and the monotony of assembly-line work, the rough sea of office politics and the idealism of the young man trying to navigate it. All in the cast except Lespert are nonprofessional actors, and all turn in extraordinary, warmly real performances, especially Vallod and Danielle Mélador as a union rep. But the film feels like a leftover from the 70s instead of a recent work. It’s not that the feud between management and workers has been settled once and for all — as the just-settled MOMA strike and the upcoming actions by the WGA and SAG prove — it’s that the line between who’s right and who’s wrong doesn’t seem as clear-cut as it did in Norma Rae’s day. Human Resources, to its credit, keeps the story more personal than political, but its demonization of management and lionization of workers seem a tad old-fashioned.

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