En guerre (“At War”) focuses on one event in the life of employees of a French manufacturer of spare parts somewhere in France’s provinces: the shutting down of their plant. Two years after an agreement was reached to maintain jobs at their affiliate plant, the Germany-based parent company decides to call it quits. A strike goes in effect, and Laurent Amédéo (Vincent Lindon, here in his third collaboration with Brizé), plant employee, strike leader, goes on the offensive.
There are a lot of people shouting a lot in this movie. If you happen, zen-like, to be walking past a movie theater on a Friday afternoon and movie-watching catches your fancy, this movie is probably not, at that moment, for you. In the press screening here in Cannes people would exhale a sigh of relief after each new scene of shouting wrapped up, the incidents taking place, varyingly, between the unionists and the company executives and, at times, between the unionists themselves. The noise level, the anger, the despair, all are quasi-unbearable.
As Brizé shows us, fractures within the group become apparent after the parent company started to wave exit bonuses in the employees’ faces. Some among the union, with Amédéo leading the way, are more belligerent than others, wanting to fight to the end. Others crossed the picket line and went to work. Everyone in “En guerre,” indiscriminately looks bad, what differs from one character to another is how quickly they meet their undoing.
The French know already that protest movements are a part of daily life here (this writer had to change his train ticket back to Paris on account of the strikes). Brizé, a tactician filmmaker who cuts scenes of tense negotiations and shouting matches with news reels of reporters narrating progress, doesn’t seem to be taking sides. With just the right dosage, he shows us, with deliberate speed and incredibly-accurate timing how the negotiations unwind and ultimately come crashing down.
This film could earn Brizé the best director’s prize (four stars).