Human Resources (2000): Laurent Cantet’s Brilliant Debut

The talented director Laurent Cantet made a brilliant feature debute with Human Resources, a socially relevant, powerful French drama, in which a young man learns some harsh and painful lessons about taking responsibility in both family and work domains.

“Ressources Humaines received its world premiere at the 1999 San Sebastian Film Fest, where Laurent Cantet received the New Directors Award.

Cantet made a shrewd decision to use non-professional actors in the lead roles, thus increasing the film’s authenticity.

The protag, Frank (Jalil Lespert), is a recent college graduate who has obtained an internship with a metalworking concern, where his father (Jean-Claude Vallod) has worked for three decades as a machinist.

Frank’s job is to act as a liaison between management and labor as the plant adopts a new plan of 35-working hours per week. Taking his job seriously, he conducts  research, polls the opinions of various workers and managers.

But this puts his father in an uncomfortable position. Frank wants to represent the rights of the employees, a goal that naturally clashes with the boss (Lucien Longueville), leaving his father as the man in the middle.  Frank then realizaes the hard way that the company has taken his scientific data and used it in deceptive ways. The result of his study will be corporate downsizing, the loss of many jobs of loyal employees, including Franck’s father.

As a result, Frank moves to the labor’s camp, which forces him to come to terms with the strained relationship with his father. In time, Frank acknowledges his shame about his working-class origins in general and his inability to understand his father’s pride about his work in particular.

For his part, his father must face the harsh reality that the company he has selflessly served for all of his life is not particualrly concerned with is interests and his welfare.

It’s a testament to Cantet skills as co-writer (with Gilles Marchant) and director that the film’s longest scene, a company-wide labor dispute, is not overly verbose or drily didactic, and that he is able to conclude his tale in an emotionally touching and thematically satisfying way.

Running time: 103 Minutes.