At All Costs

A small company valiantly struggles to survive under the respectful yet probing camera of Claire Simon in "At All Costs." Docu, which has racked up several festival prizes (including a special jury award at Montreal last year), will be of special interest to issues-oriented tube programmers.

A small company valiantly struggles to survive under the respectful yet probing camera of Claire Simon in “At All Costs.” Docu, which has racked up several festival prizes (including a special jury award at Montreal last year), will be of special interest to issues-oriented tube programmers.

It’s difficult to imagine a more authentic portrait of the daily obstacles that hamper small businesses or the effort required to keep plugging away at an increasingly iffy enterprise. Determination, employee-employer solidarity and a good product aren’t always enough, as docu shows with compassion and humor.

Viewers will root for the skeleton staff at Navigation Systems, a modest startup that prepares ready-to-eat salads and individual portions of meat dishes for sale to supermarkets in the vicinity of Nice.

As the docu opens, founder and manager Jihad is off to see his banker. The lack of ready cash to pay his loyal employees, wholesale produce providers and a whole range of other creditors, including the tax-gobbling French government, is omnipresent. From a staff of 14, Jihad is down to three cooks, one delivery driver and a secretary in less than six months.

The good-natured pluck of the remaining employees is at the heart of the film. Subterfuges for putting up a brave united front include scheduling food orders from a coin-operated pay phone when the office phone is cut off for nonpayment.

Simon, who’s been a filmmaker for 20 years, shot the docu over a period of six months. Results are loosely divided into five sections signaled by title cards. Pleasing score incorporates accordion, xylophone and catchy percussion.

At All Costs

(FRENCH -- DOCU)

Production: A Rezo Films release (in France) of a Les Films d'Ici, La Sept/Arte production. Produced by Serge Lalou, Richard Copans. Co-producer, Thierry Garel. Directed by Claire Simon.

Crew: Camera (color), Simon; editor, Catherine Quesemand; music, Arthur H; sound, Dominique Lancelot, Jean-Pierre Laforce. Reviewed at Club de l'Etoile screening room, Paris, Feb. 1, 1996. Running time: 95 MIN.

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