2018’s “At War” burned hot with righteous fury as it followed a labor organizer protesting layoffs at his local plant. Fighting a campaign always doomed to fail and falling well short of his opponents’ financial munitions, Vincent Lindon’s working-class tribune found strength in his rage, kindling an inner flame that eventually consumed him whole. With “Another World,” director Stéphane Brizé has devised a companion piece of sorts, once again surrounding Lindon with a cast of (mostly) non-professionals and tracking a similar story from management’s perspective while raising its ire ever so high that the flames burn blue.
Chilly in all the ways that “At War” singed, staid in every way its predecessor frenzied, “Another World” takes another bleak snapshot of a globalized and financialized workforce, offering a character study so fatalistic (and no doubt entirely apt) in its appraisal of the larger system that its narrative plays out more as a passion play than one of morality. If the film breaks little new ground, it doesn’t really try; after all, we don’t attend the Passion wondering what surprises are in store. And for all that, “Another World” succeeds in captivating on the sheer strength of its caustic tone, which offers a sustained performance of ice-cold contempt quite unlike anything Brizé has tried before.
Lindon stars here as Philippe Lemesle, a factory boss already worn down and beleaguered by the time the film picks up. Philippe has spent years giving up his nights, weekends, and holidays to keep his one regional branch in an international conglomerate running smoothly. Only the time that he offered was not wholly his own, and when the film opens he’s in the midst of divorce mediation with Anne (Sandrine Kiberlain), his ex-to-be. And if Anne signed the divorce papers, her pen was guided by the invisible hand of the market; if another woman came between her and Philippe, it could only have been the Paris-based regional corporate executive vice president in charge of French territories (Claire Bonnet Guérin) — or whatever her real title is — that gives Philippe his marching orders.
Truth is, Philippe and Anne still have plenty of love between them. But love is an intangible force, while marriage is just another contract. Insofar as Brizé’s fatalism allows it, Philippe’s tragic flaw (with an extremely lower-case t — even the drama here is toned down) is not related to his work situation, which is just another inevitability of this dialed-in world, but in the fact that he realizes so much later than Anne that rotten contracts can also be broken.
As to his situation at work – hoo boy, it’s not going smoothly. While the sixtysomething Philippe came of age in a more human-scale era, where management could negotiate with labor with at least a roughly shared understanding of their mutual positions, times have certainly changed. The plant’s workers may look to their boss as some kind of authority, but Philippe knows better. He answers to the Paris office, which in turn answers to corporate stateside, which in turn answers to Wall St. And if this particular structure is ruthlessly efficient in passing orders down the chain of command – like say another round of layoffs– it remains diffuse enough to absorb any effort to push back.
Thus are born the greater narrative stakes of a procedural film that — like “At War” before it — plays out in conference rooms as a series of fraught negotiations. His conscience anchored in another era, Philippe tries to find another solution, eventually circling a proposal to forgo his own annual bonuses to offset the money that would be saved in blue-collar layoffs. But to do that he needs other members of the c-suite to sign on, and well, you can imagine how that goes.
With so many narrative developments basically preordained, “Another World” wrings moments of surprise from the sundry ways it finds to express animus. When one or another of the corporate flacks delivers empty talk about having the “courage” to cut people loose, their each and every syllable drips with venom; when Anne and Philippe visit their son Lucas (Anthony Bajon), who’s staying in a recovery ward after suffering a psychotic episode, the boy asks his parents to send the latest management textbooks so as to not fall too far behind.
That in his delusions Lucas came up with something so mundane as being recruited to work at Facebook lands as the darkest possible punchline to a film that takes many of the preoccupations that have longed troubled this filmmaker and expresses them in wholly unexpected ways.
“Another World” premiered at the Venice Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.
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