×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘At War’

Another stellar Vincent Lindon performance is the main reason to weather this stormy, strident portrait of industrial dispute.

Director:
Stéphane Brizé
With:
Vincent Lindon, Mélanie Rover, Jacques Borderie, David Rey, Olivier Lemaire, Isabelle Rufin, Bruno Bourthol, Sébastien Vamelle, Jean-Noël Tronc, Valérie Lamond, Guillaume Daret, Jean Grosset, Frédéric Lacomare, Anthony Pitalier, Séverine Charrié, Romain de Boissieu, Marie Nadaud, Rachid Mamlous, Grégoire Ruhland, Daphné Latour, Guillaume Draux, Letizia Storti, Carole Bluteau, Cédric Personeni, Laurent Boukhari, Gilles Dorbes, Cédric Dayraud, Stéphanie Pietrois, Rachid Haryouli, Jean-Claude Laugeois,Pieter-Jan Peeters, Martin Hauser, Marie-Hélène Fournier, Laurent Bruneau, Teddy Perrot, Michel Freyne, Emma Monnoyeur.

1 hour 54 minutes

With their trio of prior films together, director Stéphane Brizé and actor Vincent Lindon have declared a low-key manifesto of sorts. All three — culminating in 2015’s tremendous “The Measure of a Man,” which won the Cannes Best Actor award for Lindon — are richly attentive portraits of working men fighting to protect their interpersonal relationships and to retain dignity and self-determination, in tightrope circumstances that benefit from no social safety net. To find this furious brand of class consciousness so effortlessly allied to moral class conscience is rare in modern cinema, but it makes the capital-versus-labor quandary explored in their new collaboration, “At War,” seem like a natural progression. And in Union leader, spokesperson and factory worker Laurent Amédéo, Lindon adds another rivetingly real characterization to his muscular everyman repertoire.

It begins as it continues: in a riotous, talky, argumentative scene of disbelief and dismay. (This is not a film for the confrontation-averse; its title, while metaphorical, is well-earned). An automotive parts plant in Agen has been ordered closed by its far-off German management, having been deemed non-competitive. The workers, including the passionate and articulate Laurent, are for the time being united in outrage, having agreed two years prior to forego bonuses and work additional unpaid hours, in return for a guarantee of at least five more years of employment. Management, in the person of the director M. Borderie (Jacques Borderie), hides behind boilerplate excuses: it’s not them, it’s “the Germans,”; they’re trying to ensure the best severance packages; it’s the law of the market (a reference to “La loi du marché,” the French title of “The Measure of a Man.” ) The workers vote to strike.

What “At War” captures well, if stridently, are the tidal swells of solidarity and division that occur within the group of striking workers, who struggle to find a balance between coherent leadership and the democratic and socialist principles on which they’re organized. The group dynamic starts to fragment as the days without work stretch into weeks, and the factory management refuses to budge. As so often, the fatal split occurs along lines of pragmatism versus principle and long-term versus short-term, with Laurent holding fast to the terms of that earlier agreement. Others, meanwhile, start to consider the sweetened severance deal the company is offering if they will break the strike and go back to work to fill the final, outstanding orders.

We learn that Laurent is about to become a grandfather, and has a close relationship with loyal sidekick Mélanie (Mélanie Rover) about which the other workers gossip. But other than those scant details, Brizé and co-writer Olivier Gorce exclude all extraneous subplots to focus on an industrial dispute that coalesces and dissipates almost like an organic entity. It is an admirable but overly austere approach that relies on propulsive interludes, scored to Bertrand Blessing’s dynamic music, to create some forward momentum.

Cinematographer Éric Dumont’s handheld, impeccably vérité images exercise a kind of cinematic socialism too. Often the camera sits back from the action in a wide, peopled scene and searches out Laurent in the crowd — and whenever it does, Lindon’s performance acts as a lightning rod, conducting us through the cacophony to the heart of the scene. It’s a role he inhabits so flawlessly that it makes the film’s ill-advised final coup de grâce feel immensely misjudged; though an idealist, his Laurent is simply too solid, too grounded and too smart for such a disproportionately dramatic gesture.

In fact, for all Laurent’s blue-collar realness, this might be the most cerebral role that Lindon has taken on for Brizé — it is certainly his most talkative. And it is this turn that is the main element that sets “At War” apart from similarly-premised recent titles such as Michele Placido’s 2016 film “7 Minutes” or Pedro Pinho’s more surreal but no less socially aware “The Nothing Factory.” While never attaining the heights of grace and thrilling compassion that informed the desperately moving “The Measure of a Man,” Lindon remains an electric presence, whose strength Brizé seems to innately understand right until that final, cheapening coda. Amid the aesthetics of industrial decline that are depressingly familiar — parked forklifts, deserted factory floors, machines that are cold to the touch and do not whirr — the chief value of the impassioned but slightly flavorless “At War” is that it gives Lindon another opportunity to wear the undersung virtue of ordinary, rough-hewn decency the way a superhero might wear a cape.

Film Review: 'At War'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 12, 2018. Running time: 114 MIN. (Original title: "En Guerre")

Production: (France) A Diaphana (in France) presentation of a Nord-Ouest production in co-production with France 3 Cinema in association with La Banque Postale Image 11, Cofinova 14. (International sales: MK2, Paris.) Producers: Christophe Rossignon, Philip Boeffard. Executive Producer: Eve Francois-Machuel.

Crew: Director: Stéphane Brizé. Screenplay: Brizé, Olivier Gorce. Camera (color, widescreen): Éric Dumont. Editor: Anne Klotz. Music: Bertrand Blessing.

With: Vincent Lindon, Mélanie Rover, Jacques Borderie, David Rey, Olivier Lemaire, Isabelle Rufin, Bruno Bourthol, Sébastien Vamelle, Jean-Noël Tronc, Valérie Lamond, Guillaume Daret, Jean Grosset, Frédéric Lacomare, Anthony Pitalier, Séverine Charrié, Romain de Boissieu, Marie Nadaud, Rachid Mamlous, Grégoire Ruhland, Daphné Latour, Guillaume Draux, Letizia Storti, Carole Bluteau, Cédric Personeni, Laurent Boukhari, Gilles Dorbes, Cédric Dayraud, Stéphanie Pietrois, Rachid Haryouli, Jean-Claude Laugeois,Pieter-Jan Peeters, Martin Hauser, Marie-Hélène Fournier, Laurent Bruneau, Teddy Perrot, Michel Freyne, Emma Monnoyeur.

More Film

  • Sam Mendes

    Sam Mendes' World War I Drama '1917' Set for Awards-Season Launch on Christmas 2019

    Universal Pictures has given an awards-season release date of Dec. 25, 2019, to Sam Mendes’ World War I drama “1971.” Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners is producing “1917” through its DreamWorks Pictures brand. “1917” will open in limited release on Christmas Day then go wide two weeks later on Jan. 10, 2020. More Reviews Film Review: [...]

  • Ventana Sur Queer Latin Film Panel

    Ventana Sur: Panel Talks Merits, Setbacks in Latin Queer Cinema

    BUENOS AIRES — Four venerable professionals from the cinema world joined on Monday evening for Queer Cinema In Latin America, a frank discussion on Latin America’s role within the queer filmscape for Ventana Sur’s Industry conference series held at the UCA campus in Buenos Aires. Touching on advancements in character arc and notable achievements in [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez 'Absolutely' Wants to Direct Film and Television

    Jennifer Lopez epitomizes the phrase “she’s done it all” — but there’s still more that the superstar would like to do. Lopez recently directed her first music video, “Limitless,” the track featured on her new rom-com “Second Act,” and it seems the multi-hyphenate has caught the directing bug. More Reviews Film Review: 'Dumplin'' Film Review: [...]

  • The favourite Movie

    Olivia Colman to Be Honored by Palm Springs Festival for 'The Favourite'

    “The Favourite” star Olivia Colman will receive the Desert Palm Achievement Award by the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The award will be presented by her co-star Emma Stone at the festival’s awards gala on Jan. 3 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The festival, now in its 30th year, runs from Jan. 3 to [...]

  • Oscars Oscar Academy Awards Placeholder

    Motion Pictures Academy Announces Scientific and Technical Awards

    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced nine scientific and technical achievements, represented by 27 individual recipients, to be honored at the annual Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation Feb. 9 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. In addition, Curtis Clark will be receiving the John A. Bonner Award for his service [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content