In association with the French Film Festival
If Louis Theroux were a French socialist filmmaker, he might be a little something like Francois Ruffin. Turning his attention here on Bernard Arnault, CEO of luxury goods company LMVH and one of the richest men in France, as he attempts to gain Belgian citizenship to avoid paying taxes and outsources labour to Poland and Bulgaria to save on manufacturing costs.
The film focuses largely not on Arnault himself but on the former workers in his French garment factories who have been laid off. While Ruffin is an able presenter with a sardonic French wit (heading to northern France to speak to union members, he deadpans in the voiceover that ‘I still had to find a happy employee who would go the shareholders meeting and thank Bernard Arnault for being laid off’) his interviewees are the film’s true stars, all possessing a bitingly sharp wit and a determination to get their fair share.
Chief amongst these are one of the most desperate cases; couple Jocelyne and Serge Klur lost their jobs in Arnault-owned Kenzo factory and have been unemployed ever since. They are struggling to afford to feed themselves, are in considerable debt, and are at serious risk of losing their house; at one point Serge muses that ‘the best thing we can do is to kill ourselves’. But Ruffin has a plan, and they write to Bernard Arnault himself to ask for compensation for him ‘ruining their lives’ with the threat of writing to the national newspapers if he doesn’t cough up.
The wit here is typically French deadpan, but there’s something genuinely heartening about a film which sticks up for the downtrodden. Similar to I, Daniel Blake in the UK, Merci, Patron! has caused genuine political ripples in France, and been cited as a factor in initiating the ‘nuit debout’ (or ‘up all night’) protest movement against proposed labour reforms, a kind of French equivalent of Occupy Wall Street. By turns silly and sardonic, this is a film with both political clout and a kind heart, and makes for a legitimately uplifting watch.
[Clare Patterson – @clarepttrsn]
This film will be screening at the GFT on the 15th of November.