×

Karlovy Vary Film Review: ‘Corporate’

Céline Sallette smartly anchors this compelling, cool-headed office-politics thriller, a solid debut for writer-director Nicolas Silhol.

Director:
Nicolas Silhol
With:
Céline Sallette, Lambert Wilson, Stéphane De Groodt, Violaine Fumeau, Alice de Lencquesaing, Colin Hansen. (French, English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5460548/

“Fire” can be an oddly inappropriate verb for the act of ending a person’s employment: It implies a decision committed in heated fury, whereas frosty impersonality is so often closer to the mark. So it largely proves in “Corporate,” a smart, slow-simmering French workplace thriller that wades in deep, chilly waters of moral corruption and compromise. That blandly prosaic title — one can’t help suspecting freshman writer-director Nicolas Silhol would rather have titled it “Inhuman Resources” — and a clinical, slightly televisual aesthetic shouldn’t deter international distributors from a mostly engrossing what-would-you-do drama, headed by the ever-interesting Céline Sallette as a human resources manager whose professional sangfroid cracks in the wake of an employee’s suicide. Released in France in April, “Corporate” had its international premiere in Karlovy Vary; multi-platform release prospects are strong.

French cinema has a tradition of dramas in which the politics and vagaries of respectable employment are scrutinized with rare intensity. “Corporate” hasn’t the aching heart of Laurent Cantet’s “Human Resources” and “Time Out,” nor the dizzy thematic escalation of Nicolas Klotz’s “Heartbeat Detector,” but shares a lot of paperwork with them — while offering a relatively bracing perspective on the ways in which capable women continue to be exploited and scapegoated in the male-dominated white-collar realm. Silhol’s film is less interested in the most abject victims of cut-throat corporate culture than he is in those charged with the cutting: middle(wo)men who demonstrate both power and passivity in “just following orders.”

For Emilie (Sallette), a thirtysomething HR hotshot at a Paris-based multinational food company, her driven, confident manner in the office goes some way toward masking the marionette strings that bind her to department director Stephane, played in typically unruffled fashion by Lambert Wilson. A smooth operator in a range of semi-villainous polo-necks, Stephane has been grooming Emilie for her position since she graduated college, training her in the bloodless business of managing, manipulating and moving employees with as little candid human contact as possible. But their evasive, passive-aggressive strategies of getting unwanted staff out of the way without violating France’s strict labor laws — less about terminating contracts than cornering people into resignation — come under scrutiny when an efficient but undynamic finance drone, having learned he’s getting edged out, jumps to his death from an office balcony.

As the suicide prompts a critical investigation of corporate practice by principled work inspector Marie (Violaine Fumeau), Emilie finds herself targeted from above and below: Stephane distances himself from their increasingly exposed methodology, while lesser-ranking colleagues begin to rail bitterly against her brisk management style. (“Is my crying bothering anyone?” the dead man’s devastated deskmate says to her. “It’s not very proactive, I suppose.”) At home, meanwhile, Emilie gets only strained sympathy from her job-seeking British husband (Colin Hansen): Her style of people management, it seems, is about as remote at home as it in the office. Happily, Silhol and Nicolas Fleureau’s intelligent, unfussy script steers clear of simple condemnation, sharply outlining both the rock and the hard place between which Emilie — like many a career woman in her position — finds herself, and the differing ways in which society perceives business-minded ruthlessness in men and women.

With a smoky, critical regard that recalls the young Simone Signoret, Sallette (best known internationally for TV’s “The Returned”) is a coolly low-key performer who doesn’t court immediate sympathy, making her an ideal lead here. As Emilie’s conscience and career ambitions do battle, Sallette’s reserved poise gradually gives way to naked, anxious agitation. The film in turn swerves into a higher melodramatic register as forces close in on the protagonist — a somewhat conventional development that undoes some of the film’s cultivated moral ambiguity, but still proceeds in pleasingly open-ended fashion.

Technical contributions are on the beige end of the spectrum, though that’s hardly out of order for a film knowingly immersed in the soulless environs of corporation culture. At times, Nicolas Gaurin’s cinematography claustrophobically crams performers in the frame; at others, it strands them in sterile, hostile interior space. Production designer Sidney Dubois, meanwhile, deals in fifty shades of office carpeting: if the tones and textures of Emilie’s high-spec apartment are scarcely distinguishable from those of the company headquarters, that’s no accident.

Karlovy Vary Film Review: 'Corporate'

Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (competing), July 2, 2017. Running time: 95 MIN.

Production: (France) A Kazak Prods., Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Cinéma production in association with Manon 6, Cinémage 10, Cofinova 12. (International sales: Indie Sales, Paris.) Producer: Jean-Christophe Reymond.

Crew: Director: Nicolas Silhol. Screenplay: Silhol, Nicolas Fleureau. Camera (color, widescreen): Nicolas Gaurin. Editor: Florence Bresson. Music: Mike Kourtzer, Fabien Kourtzer, Alexandre Saada.

With: Céline Sallette, Lambert Wilson, Stéphane De Groodt, Violaine Fumeau, Alice de Lencquesaing, Colin Hansen. (French, English dialogue)

More Film

  • For Lineup Story

    Billie Piper's Directorial Debut, 'Rare Beasts,' to Bow in Venice Critics' Week

    “Rare Beasts,” the directorial debut of British stage and screen actress Billie Piper (“Doctor Who,” “Penny Dreadful,” “Collateral”) is set to premiere at the Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Week, which has unveiled its lineup of nine first works, four of them from female filmmakers. Produced by Vaughan Sivell of Western Edge Pictures in association with [...]

  • 'Mientras dure la guerra' -Rodaje Modmedia-

    Alejandro Amenabar, Ricardo Darin, Paco Cabezas Bound for San Sebastian

    MADRID  –  Alejandro Amenábar, Ricardo Darín and Paco Cabezas, director of episodes from “Peaky Blinders” and “American Gods,” look set to join Penelope Cruz, already confirmed as a Donostia Award winner, at this year’s 67th San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival. The biggest movie event in the Spanish-speaking world, this year’s San Sebastian runs Sept.20-28. Amenábar’s [...]

  • Pinewood Studios James Bond

    Netflix's Shepperton Studios Deal Is Stretching the U.K.'s Production Limits

    Netflix’s huge new hub at Shepperton Studios outside London is a further fillip for Britain’s booming production sector. Amid jitters over Brexit and its effects on the economy, the streaming giant’s commitment is a vote of confidence in the U.K. entertainment industry and a continuing source of local jobs. But the decision by Netflix to [...]

  • Bottom of the 9th

    Film Review: ‘Bottom of the 9th’

    Nearly two decades after scoring an audience award at Sundance for “Two Family House,” a smartly understated yet deeply affecting indie about a Staten Island factory worker who deeply regrets stifling his showbiz ambitions, director Raymond De Felitta steps back up to the plate with “Bottom of the 9th,” another dramatically solid and emotionally satisfying [...]

  • Endemol Shine Builds ‘The Bridge’ in

    Endemol Shine Builds ‘The Bridge’ in Africa (EXCLUSIVE)

    DURBAN–Endemol Shine Group has sold the rights to adapt its critically acclaimed and highly popular Nordic Noir detective series “The Bridge” to Cape Town-based production company Both Worlds Pictures, Variety has learned exclusively. The series will feature an all-African cast and will be set around the Beit Bridge border crossing between South Africa and Zimbabwe. Originally known [...]

  • Durban Film Fest 2019

    Durban Fest Hails Film as ‘Conscience of Our Nation’

    DURBAN–When Ros and Teddy Sarkin raised the curtain on the first Durban Intl. Film Festival 40 years ago, the odds were long that their scrappy fest would survive its inaugural edition. The apartheid government and its draconian censorship board had a stranglehold on the films that reached South African theaters, banning the sorts of subversive [...]

  • Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell

    Film Review: 'Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell'

    “Streetwise,”  the classic and haunting 1984 documentary about homeless street kids in Seattle, is a movie that’s now 35 years old. But for anyone who has seen it, the children it’s about — drifters, hustlers, squatters, thieves, prostitutes — remain frozen in time. And none of them was ever more memorable than Tiny, the 14-year-old [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content