Director Stéphane Brizé explored the painful and prolonged demise of France’s working class in his films The Measure of a Man (2015) and At War (2018), both of which starred Vincent Lindon as a blue-collar laborer fighting to maintain his job, and hopefully a shred of human dignity, beneath the crushing weight of global capitalism. In those movies, Lindon played, respectively, an unemployed factory worker and union shop steward, his rough-hewn and weary physique perfectly encapsulating the sense of characters caught in unbearable situations, forced into corners with little room to act or breathe.
For their latest collaboration, Another World (Un autre monde), which could be considered the third part of a trilogy, the filmmaker and actor tackle the same subject from the opposite angle: that of a well-off plant manager overseeing his multinational corporation’s new layoff plan, which requires him to fire 10 percent of an already overburdened staff. The collar may have switched from blue to white, but the struggles are very much the same, with Lindon channeling the tremendous strain faced by a solicitous boss whose own bosses have backed him into the corner.
An intense and intimate saga of workplace malaise.
After making a handful of movies in such a vein, not to mention more intimate dramas like Mademoiselle Chambon (2009) and A Few Hours of Spring (2012), Brizé seems to have his method down pat. His approach brings to mind the work of Ken Loach, though with a tad less humor and lightness of touch.
Like the leftist British auteur, Brizé mixes real actors and amateurs; Another World features Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain (another Brizé regular) — as factory head Philippe Lemesle and his wife, Anne, who has recently asked for a divorce — alongside a cast of actual workers and corporate hands. He also reteams with cinematographer Eric Dumont, who captures the drama in long handheld takes that help elevate the emotional tension.
Where Another World works less well — if only slightly less; this is still a powerful movie — than the others is in a script (co-written with Olivier Gorce) that feels a bit schematic and lopsided, stacking the deck extremely high against Philippe and then finding a way for him to heroically save the day, if not necessarily his workers. There’s definitely no Hollywood ending here, and, as in his previous films, Brizé’s conclusion is that the only victors in a ruthless free-market economy are the shareholders. But there’s something less convincing in how Philippe’s story eventually resolves itself.
Again, this is nitpicking for what’s otherwise an engrossing depiction of severe occupational hazards, with most of the action set in drab, purely functional offices and conference rooms where Philippe has to contend with an impossible task: satisfy the angry laborers in his home appliance component factory (how’s that for drab?), who have been cracking under the pressure after a first round of layoffs a few years ago, and administer the corporate doctrine of the Elsom Group, whose chief French executive (Marie Drucker) has been browbeating her managers to start firing folks immediately.
Things are no easier back home. The film begins with a protracted discussion, which soon degenerates into an argument, between Philippe, Anne, and their respective divorce lawyers. One of the attorneys lists the couple’s property aloud — they seem to belong to France’s upper middle class — and then explains how much Philippe will be required to pay in alimony, his wife no longer able to live with a man whose job has rendered him insufferable. Philippe takes none of this sitting down, and the opening scene is a preview of the drawn-out battle he’ll wage throughout the movie against both Elsom’s higher management and the employees he may have to betray.
A well-handled if rather on-the-nose subplot involves the couple’s teenage son, Lucas (the ever-compelling Anthony Bajon), who suffers from a behavioral disorder — a clear diagnosis is never given to us, though he appears to be on the spectrum — that requires him to live with full-time care. This adds yet another layer of stress to Philippe’s already spiking cortisol levels, but may also provide him with an exit strategy. If he’s able to put his family first, then he may be capable of braving the worst.
The business narrative twists and turns as Philippe racks his brain to find a way to keep his employees on the job, hatching a plan to forgo his own bonus, plus that of the other managers, so they can meet budgetary objectives. This culminates in a wrenching video conference where he pitches his idea to Elsom’s top dog (a tough American mogul played by real-life brand consultant Jerry Hickey) who states the awful truth: Even a CEO holds limited sway over investors concerned with the stock price and nothing else.
If Another World doesn’t finish as tragically as the earlier Brizé-Lindon collaborations, offering its hero a way to redeem himself without necessarily saving a sinking ship, its vision of the times we live in is just as tragic. The title alludes to the “another world is possible” mantra of the alter-globalization movement, and much of this film deals with how, at least in the cutthroat trade of home appliances and the people who make them, there is, in fact, only one world possible — and that world has zero place for warmth, compassion or anything else we associate with being human. It’s a sad but telling statement that the best solution Philippe may find for his predicament is to turn his back on such a world for good, leaving others to deal with the consequences.