Because of its extremely limited, but still thankfully national, release let's hope "Ressources Humaines" doesn't receive an early burial. It doesn't deserve to. It is a highly polished, but punchy, first effort from director Laurent Cantet who combines sharp intelligence with depth of feeling as he draws in a quiet but powerful tale of the uneasy relationship between generations, classes and town and country.
It involves the return of Franck, young, clear-thinking professional to his dull, shabby home town where he accepts the position of management trainee at the factory where his father worked as a machine-operator for 30 years. The 35-hour week is on the horizon and Franck offers to devise a questionnaire for the workforce, only to realise he has become the ball in an intense ping-pong match between management and workers. Intriguing shifts of power and sympathy occur between Franck, his father, management and the tub-thumping union leader, a firecracker who goes off whenever she can.
Although it recalls the 1960s social realism of Ken Loach and others, "Ressources Humaines" is no warm-hearted wallow in the past but a focused, realistic look at the kind of social-industrial (and human) problems untouched by most film-makers. The picture has an even-handed approach to all sides in the dispute and, unusually for most films these days, sees life as different shades of grey. This also creates wonderful opportunities for complex, or at least conflicted, characters, and both Jalil Lespert - as the ambitious but sensitive Franck - and Jean-Claude Vallod - as his defeated but kind-hearted father - really capture the soul of the film. When Franck discovers a secret document on his boss's computer, the film incorporates suspense to great effect and without ever taking its eye off its well-intentioned realism.