Magazine article Screen International

'At War': Cannes Review

Magazine article Screen International

'At War': Cannes Review

Article excerpt

Employees at a car plant are betrayed by their management: Stéphane Brizé’s film starrting Vincent Lindon follows what happens next.

At War

Dir. Stéphane Brizé. France. 2018. 113min

A story worth telling, well told, the aptly named At War (En Guerre) takes a wrenchingly intimate look at hundreds of French factory workers fighting to keep their jobs, with solidarity and conviction as their main weapons against cavalier corporate overlords. Ripped from the headlines, keenly researched and carefully crafted, this fictional tale has near-universal resonance although some viewers may find it forbiddingly French in that talk, talk and more talk is as plentiful as are distinctive characters and punchy imagery.

Another role ideally suited to Vincent Lindon’s knack for portraying decent guys trying to do their best under daunting circumstances.

In his eighth feature since 1999, skilled storyteller Stéphane Brizé lets arguments and conversations, street demonstrations and negotiations go on beyond the breaking point for imatient viewers. But this deliberate prolonged immersion is a tactic that builds an unfailing tone of veracity, keeping us on the side of the striking workers while showing that their slickly two-faced adversaries are, as the saying goes, “just doing their jobs.”

From one day to the next, the 1,100 employees of Perrin Industries, an automotive parts factory in the French city of Agen, learn that their parent company in Germany has decided to close the plant and fire all the workers. Counting families, that will throw 4,000 people on very hard times since there’s no other work in the region. The workers are doubly stunned since two years previously they all accepted a substantial pay cut and gave up bonuses in exchange for the promise of at least five more years of stability. What’s more, the factory is turning a profit - it’s just that shareholders expect an even greater return.

It’s a basic, noble stand-off: The workers upheld their end of the bargain but management did not. Now what?

Union rep and spokesman Laurent Amédéo (Vincent Lindon) ably and energetically leads the at-first united employees in their quest for justice. As the workers see it, there’s no difference between signing a deal with management and not signing a deal with management if the employers don’t honour their word. …

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