Friday, September 08, 2006

Cinematic travails [some spoilers; but come on, these aren't whodunits]

On Monday, which was Labor Day, I watched a DVD of Laurent Cantet's 1999 film Human Resources, which I had not selected specially, but which turned out to be very appropriate to the day. Young Jalil Lespert is hired as a management trainee at the factory where his father has worked for 30 years. (You can just see it coming, but trust me: there's nothing you can do.) Eager to please, he suggests (not a union-busting but more like) a union-outmaneuvering tactic to his superiors -- but alas, he has overestimated their moral scruples, and they use it to justify layoffs. (I didn't exactly understand this part -- something to do with the 35-hour work week, which was apparently a big deal in France at the time.) Naturally Papa is one of those laid off. This leads to some soul-searching and ultimately drastic measures. Toward the end there is an emotional confrontation during which some long-buried feelings are unearthed. Not an amusing scene, but I couldn't help noticing the characteristically Gallic subtlety of the emotions in question -- not just pride or shame, but the same at second- and third-order (possibly even fourth). For the pinnacle of work-related anxiety, check out Cantet's follow-up Time Out, loosely based on the book which was more faithfully rendered here (haven't seen this but the book is great).

Laborwise, I also saw (though not on the Day itself) the recent Criterion Collection release of Harlan County USA (1976), a documentary about striking coal miners in Kentucky. It's all very Which Side Are You On -- and in fact we hear that stirring number performed several times. The music is very much part of the film -- lots of Hazel Dickens, for example. Emotional confrontations abound here too, not surprising given the circumstances. No higher-order angst here though, just good old American stubbornness. Interesting also to see traces of the 1970's seeping into more traditional, isolated areas.

For comparison we have yet another look at industrial management, this one from Denmark. Arven (a.k.a. The Inheritance) stars Ulrich Thomsen (whom you may know from Festen a.k.a. The Celebration) as a refugee from the family steel business who is browbeaten by his domineering mother into returning and taking it over after his father kills himself according to time-honored Scandinavian custom. This leads to resentment on all sides, and downhill we go from there. A bit melodramatic at times, but Thomsen is excellent. Can his stoic resignation survive the long-simmering resentment and heartbreak? Yes and no, obviously, or there wouldn't be a movie; but this battle, as played out on Thomsen's furrowed brow, maintains our interest throughout. Nice score in a Biosphere + orchestra vein (not actual Biosphere though; for that see the original Insomnia).

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