Screening as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2019, At War examines a labour dispute from the perspective of a group of 1100 auto part workers. The workers are faced with the sack when their German parent company announces its decision to mothball a factory in an economically depressed region of southern France.
Led by fiery union boss Laurent (Vincent Lindon), the workers band together and blockade the factory. They seek meetings with the French government and the corporate bosses in Germany. They ask anyone who will listen: if the factory is still making a profit and productivity is high, why is the factory being shut down and workers laid off?
In turn, they are met with little sympathy - the bosses obfuscate or simply refuse to meet them; the French politicians try to help, but the company is German and this is global capitalism - they can't do much.
The dispute continues and days tick into weeks. The workers gradually become weary and soon splits appear. Some urge Laurent to negotiate for higher redundancy payments, believing that no matter what they do, the Germans will not give in: the factory will close and there's nothing that can be done about it.
Laurent considers this naive and continues on his path of a sit-down meeting with the German CEO of the company. Laurent will propose a plan at the meeting which will save the company. He will aim to save everyone's jobs forever, not just win a big, one-off payment which is sure to be followed by long-term unemployment.
Shot documentary style, with lots of jerky camera manoeuvres and angles over shoulders, and supplemented by very real-looking staged news footage, At War is a gritty piece of realism that's stylish and honest at the same time. The pace is often frenetic, with rapid-fire dialogue as the workers try to plead their case. The tensest moments come with the violent confrontations that lurk around every corner.
The film is most interesting when the divisions emerge within the group of workers. Anyone looking a mile off can tell that this will spell disaster (and is exactly what the German bosses want), but it is also presented as a natural outcome, born by fatigue and a feeling of uselessness.
At War races to its final outcome, and in between perfectly examines the on-going struggle between shareholder profits and frontline workers.
At War (En guerre) is playing nationally as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2019.
Find information on session times, locations and tickets here.