“Human Resources,” a French film released in 2000, began the monthly “Au Taf!” (Off to Work) series sponsored by the English and Modern Language Department. The subtitled, one hour and 40 minute drama played in Hart Chapel on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 3 p.m.
“Human Resources” focuses on social divisions between manual laborers and their administrators who have accomplished higher education. However, as it progresses, the theme broadens to address thoughts and attitudes inspired by the enlightenment period. This story details a young man’s journey from ignorance to activism, leaving the audience on an unsettling, yet captivating, note.
Franck, the protagonist, is a young French student living at home the summer before his final year of higher education. He is interning with a welding company, working with the administration of the Human Resources department. His father and sister work as manual laborers in the company’s factory, the former having been faithfully at the job for 30 years.
Suggested in the first several scenes of the movie is that the plot will develop around how Franck’s new social status as an intellectual worker will affect his relationships. The young man’s parents take pride in his achievements in the business, but regard him as set apart by his education. They often view him as higher in social class and intelligence.
Franck learns to adjust to his new position, taking seats in the cafeteria with the business men rather than his father and other factory workers whom he has known since childhood. He is thought highly of by Mr. Rouett, the company’s president. He takes Franck on as a personal apprentice, even inviting him to be privy to a crucial business meeting.
At this meeting, Franck’s new world is given direction. A strong-willed woman, the leader of the workers’ union, poses fierce opposition to Rouett’s new business plans, denouncing the plan’s benefit of employees. Franck is eager to resolve this discrepancy and works tirelessly to develop a proposal that will be best for the company and all its workers.
Rouett accommodates all of Franck’s plans and supports him eagerly. Franck develops a questionnaire to gauge factory workers’ views of the company’s proposed implementations. Franck works with integrity, desirous of the advancement of all.
Less genuine, however, is Rouett. Seeking only the greatest profit, Rouett simply uses Franck’s energy and survey as a means to bypass union regulations. Franck discovers Rouett’s decisions to fire many faithful laborers, a feat made simple by Franck’s brainchild. Without union opposition, Rouett can dismiss whom he likes, including Franck’s father, ignoring their histories of faithful service.
Betrayed, Franck shifts the film’s theme to one of revolution. The young man allies himself with the workers’ union to set up a protest. On his mind are aspirations of justice, that no one should be allowed to trample on their fellow man as Rouett is doing.
Many factory workers oppose the strike that Franck leads, insisting that they have a job to do. They have no desire to become involved in the educated man’s role of company policy and regulations. They want only to continue on in what they know, bringing home pay from a predictable day at work.
Their views frustrate Franck and he is further grated upon learning that his father holds the same views. Franck, having discovered where he himself stands on issues of social justice, is angered to find that the working class, whose cause he is championing, do not all uphold similar ideals.
Franck, has been told so often by his parents, Rouett and his new place in the business world that his task is to continually propel himself upward. Franck’s naivete wants to believe that this is the case for all men and women. Franck is encouraged by others that upon finishing school he can go anywhere and do anything. He asks his friend, one of Rouett’s manual laborers, “So when are you leaving?”
This film ends on this provocative question. The chilling reality is that many workers will continue on, stagnant, never progressing in life, never forwarding their situations. The abrupt cut off of the film urges its audience to come to their own conclusions concerning these ideas and real world problems.
Disheartening though the conclusion feels, it urges viewers to pause and consider their own stance on similar issues of social justice and what they will do about their convictions.