The Cinema Libre separate DVD and Blu-ray releases of the aptly titled 2018 highly realistic French drama "At War" once again proves that Euro cinema surpasses Hollywood in both substance and style. This timely and relevant portrayal of an white-hot labor dispute at a French auto plant hits close to home in both Europe and North America. Candor requires 'fessing up to thinking the film is "live," rather than "Memorex," on watching it.
The accolades for this clever mockumentary include the Best Screenplay award at the 2018 Chicago International Film Festival and the Best Film honor at the 2018 Palic Film Festival.
This "ripped from international headlines" fictional tale centers around Perrin Industries closing down its auto plant in a small French community two years after agreeing with the 1,100 workers to not close down the plant for five years in exchange for major concessions that include working some hours without pay and for forgoing traditional hours. The stated justifications for the closure include that the minimally profitable plant does not allow Perrin to remain competitive.
The ensuing battle in which plant union official Laurent Amedeo leads the campaign to get the attention (and the support) of the French government and of German CEO Martin Hauser is reminiscent of the Michael Moore documentary "Roger and Me" about the closure of a Michigan auto plant.
The similarities between "War" and "Roger" extend to footage of the "hero" effectively staging a sit-in after stonewalled efforts to meet with the big boss. We also get the ensuing strong-arm tactics to oust the interloper.
The comparisons extend to truths that relate to life in general. The first one is that even propaganda that supports your side still is propaganda. The other is that there is your story, the story of the other guy, and the truth.
Both Moore and "War" filmmaker Stephane Brize are highly biased as to portraying the workers as the good guy victims; no reasonable person can deny that they are sympathetic and face a tough immediate future.
The presentation of Brize (possibly purposefully) provides some sympathy for the devil; this compassion is inadequate.
The hypothetical "reasonable man" (or woman) should realize that no rational company disregards the impact of a plant closure on the employees. Further, very few could argue that any manufacturing industry in Europe or North America is thriving. Perrin additionally deserves the benefit of the doubt as to having good faith when entering the underlying bargain two years earlier.
Our hypothetical analytical thinker also should feel the pain of management when labor fails to grasp that more than 10 million Euros in concessions by the workers during the past two years did not go in the pockets of the executives; those saving went toward keeping prices competitive for the buyers of the goods that the plant produced.
The same figuratively blind anger behind the waived income prevents the workers from understanding the duty of the management to the shareholders. The bottom line is that poor profits and reduced stock prices harm management and labor alike by lowering the amount of invested capital in the corporation.
The workers have a slightly stronger case as to the high salaries of executives and those chats grosse getting raises while the workers are on the brink of poverty. Although one must understand that the demand for a world-class CEO keeps salaries in the stratosphere, it is hard to grasp that the expertise and the management skills of any individual are worth compensation that translates to $100s (if not $1,000s) an hour.
An extreme (but relatable) example of obscene CEO compensation is a Google search while writing this post revealing that Jeff Bezos earns $1.5 billion a WEEK while subjecting the customers who foot that bill to horrific overseas customer-service centers and arguably underpaying his warehouse staff. This is not to mention indirectly shaking down taxpayers by demanding major concessions to open new Amazon facilities in communities.
Another aspect of "War" is the striking workers not comprehending the role of the national government as to their plight. The sincere statements of a high-level official that the president of France feels their pain and is their advocate largely falls on deaf ears. The same is true as to that civil servant trying to get Team Laurent to understand that even the guy sitting in the French equivalent of the Oval Office cannot force Perrin to keep the plant open, a French court to reverse a decision for the corporation, or Hauser to meet with them.
All of this occurs among confrontations with outside groups, the "suits," and among the union officials.
All of the above shows that documentary vibe of "War" includes provoking as much thought and debate as well-produced films from the non-fiction genre. One can argue that artificially high labor costs and the related expense of complying with possibly undue government regulation is at the root of the problem; on the other hand, no one can deny that maximizing profits is a high priority for most businesses.