The spirit of ’68 is alive and kicking in At War, the latest politically charged drama from the formidable pairing of director Stéphane Brizé and actor Vincent Lindon. We’re thrown straight into the thick of things in a heated meeting between the union representatives of a rural factory and their managers. After workers surrendered their bonuses and took a salary cut, management are going back on their promise and closing the factory.
The debate is vital and aggressive, with the moral code of the workers drawing a blank against the predatory instincts of their bosses. Yes, they made a promise, but now things have changed, and the company are going to do everything in their power to get away with it.
The film revolves around these scenes, with the union’s dogged determination climbing them slowly up the ladder towards a meeting with the company’s CEO. Laurent (Vincent Lindon) is incredible here, bristling with a common sense outrage that never strays into hysterics. He’s supported well by Mélanie Rover, who struggles under the emotional toil of the fight, but remains loyal to Laurent and the cause.
There are sparks of rough humour throughout, particularly when management offer bullshit platitudes or claim they like French people by pointing out they have a holiday home in the Carmargue. Mostly though, At War is a belligerent and vicious political battle, with intelligent arguments put forward fairly on both sides. The ultimate depressing truth however, is that the big businesses will nearly always win, because that’s the way it goes.
Brizé achieves some incredible moments, but At War’s greatest strength, its fierce debates, are also its biggest weaknesses, becoming repetitive and weary by the end. The ‘action’ scenes of riots and protests are also laughable, creating dead air where there should be tension and thrills.
CAST: Vincent Lindon, Mélanie Rover
DIRECTOR: Stéphane Brizé
WRITERS: Stéphane Brizé, Olivier Gorce
SYNOPSIS: After promising 1100 employees that they would protect their jobs, the managers of a factory decide to suddenly close up shop. Laurent takes the lead in a fight against this decision.
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