In “The Measure of a Man” (2015) and “At War” (2018), director Stéphane Brizé and actor Vincent Lindon dramatized the working-class struggle with a calm reserve that didn’t cool or dilute the films’ rage. In both films, blue-collar workers find their livelihood, their ethics or both compromised by the hard, inhuman priorities of their capitalist overlords, to incrementally soul-scraping effect.
In “Another World,” Brizé and Lindon reunite to complete a trilogy of sorts on the theme, though the perspective in this characteristically measured, intelligent, unexcitable film is reversed: Here, Lindon plays a white-collar manager caught between duty to his corporate superiors and obligations to his employees, rendered increasingly powerless in the impasse. Lest you think “Another World” is a work of bourgeois both-sides-ism, however, rest assured that it reaches the same furious conclusion as it predecessors, albeit via another route: Brizé’s reputation as France’s own answer to Ken Loach remains intact. If “At War” enjoyed a slightly lower art-house profile than “The Measure of a Man” — which had a Cannes win for Lindon to show off — “Another World” will likely continue the pattern following its low-key Venice competition premiere, though the presence of a fine Sandrine Kiberlain in a supporting role is an additional draw for distributors.
It is domestic crisis, rather than workplace warfare, that consumes wealthy executive plant manager Philippe (Lindon) at the film’s outset: His wife Anne (Kiberlain) has finally asked for a divorce after many years of marital drift, and the film opens on a scene of heated confrontation between the couple and their respective lawyers. Anne’s lawyer demands a payout of €375,000, which doesn’t appear to be any great problem for Philippe, who’s more perturbed by Anne’s insistence that the last seven years of their marriage have been “hell.” (“If it was hell, ask for eight million,” he counters.) Once the action shifts to the office, however, we begin to see how Philippe — neither an unkind nor an unreasonable man, it seems — may have carried a strained, combative work environment home with him.
For despite his healthy paycheck, the permanently navy-suited Philippe is nowhere near the top of any ladder. He may be nominally in charge of the regional factory he oversees — producing what, it’s never clearly established, as if the point of industry is lost in its politics — but he answers to the demands of the Paris office, whose chilly, efficiency-minded head Claire (Marie Drucker) is in turn under the thumb of American corporate chiefs. (One of them, played with terrifyingly impersonal menace by Jerry Hickey, appears for a kind of “Glengarry Glen Ross”-via-Zoom declaration of bland evil.) It’s a chain of command that progressively sheds any sense of human connection with each upward link. When Claire instructs Philippe to lay off a significant percentage of his already overworked staff, it’s a directive born of spreadsheets and profit margins, calculated by people who will never have to acquaint themselves with the lives ruined in the process.
The quiet thriller of strategy versus principle that ensues — as Philippe stalls over Claire’s orders, misleading his workers as he attempts to protect them — is effectively a narrative reversal of “At War,” in which Lindon played one of a thousand factory laborers threatened with unemployment, despite corporate promises to the contrary, after the facility faces closure. Both films pit individual moral codes against vast business considerations, with little David-versus-Goliath optimism. In “Another World,” Lindon slips most persuasively into the skin of the middle class, inevitably cushioned from capitalist cruelty no matter how sincere their sympathies for those below them. His very posture and body language evoke the uncertainty of a man with no clear corner to fight.
That Brizé largely surrounds Lindon with non-professional actors in the film’s workplace-based sections — often playing out as tense rhetorical standoffs over sterile gray conference tables — contributes toward their air of bristling division. But it also separates these scenes from the realm of his domestic life (another world, indeed), where pro thesps Kiberlain and Anthony Bajon (as Anne and Philippe’s son Lucas, who struggles with learning difficulties) convey a sense of kinship even through their most fraught arguments.
Anne and Philippe haven’t fallen out of love with each other, exactly. But his challenging job hasn’t just removed him from the home for countless overtime hours and weekends. It’s stranded him between real and corporate life altogether, in such a way that he doesn’t know to live either one anymore. Brizé and Olivier Gorce’s thorny script offers him the possibility of redemption, though it’s not the kind that’ll save any jobs, his own included. In this hard, unblinking film, even a moral victory feels like defeat.