Work Hard, Play Hard (Violence des échanges en milieu tempéré)

Robin Clifford Robin Clifford 
Work Hard, Play Hard
Laura Clifford Laura Clifford 

Philippe Seigner (Jeremie Renier) is one of the best and the brightest of the management trainees in the high-powered Parisian consulting firm of MacGregor’s. His boss, Hugo Paradis (Laurent Lucas), recognizes the young man’s potential and assigns him the task of auditing a company outside of Paris. Soon, Philippe realizes that his mission, effectively, is to downsize the company in preparation for a big-deal merger. He is morally opposed to his task but, if he wants to keep his fast track career, he must “Work Hard Play Hard.”

Tyro helmer Jean-Marc Moutout makes a mature debut with his story about the workings of Corporate France through the eyes of bright young recruit, Philippe. As the executive wannabe learns the management ropes he is assigned one task after another with each more difficult than the last. Boss man Hugo realizes Seigner’s potential and assigns him the onerous task of preparing a company for takeover.

As Philippe tackles his assignment – assessing the workers in the company and evaluating their jobs – he concludes that the “audit” is really just the first step in cutting away the dead wood and troublemakers prior to the takeover. This revelation causes a crisis of conscience in Philippe, something that is reinforced as his romance with a single mother and temp secretary, Eva (Cylia Malki), develops. Her advice is, “Quit!” But, Philippe, alone, must decide in his mind and heart which path to follow – do his job and, assuredly, advance his career or take the moral high ground and refuse to take part in something that will cause pain and suffering for scores of people – and ruin his profession plans. This is his dilemma.

Director Moutout creates a finely written and crafted film about the workplace that represents a solid entry into the genre. Philippe is the focus in the story about corporate wheeling-dealings, but there is much more going on in “Work Hard Play Hard.” Besides Seigner’s crisis on conscience there is also the day-to-day struggle of the workers; their one-sided loyalty to the company; the politics at every level – even the lowest cafeteria worker; and, most of all, the many shadings of right and wrong.

At first, Philippe is the open-eyed, intelligent management recruit who sees things fresh and, as such, offers an insightful view on improving efficiency and making sound recommendations to his boss. This talent proves to be two edged as Hugo takes advantage of Philippe’s analysis to institute his hard nosed acquisition policies. Philippe realizes that his role as the efficiency expert and smart analyst will get him the corporate career he has worked so hard for. But, the cost will be tangible and expensive – the lives of 80 workers will be changed from productive members of society to a drain on the state welfare coffers. Jeremie Renier gives a subtle, quiet observer performance as the conflicted but ambitious Philippe. The actor does a good job but there is more to “Work Hard Play Hard” than just this performance.

Supporting cast and the other stories in the film help flesh out the core tale and give a multi-viewed look into French corporate society and its workers. Dedicated, long-time employee and foreman Roland Manin (Olivier Perrier) figures out Philippe’s real role in the “audit” immediately, is instantly distrustful and openly hostile to the young man. Perrier gives a 3D perf as a man who has been a loyal, hard working employee of his company for 21 years and sees that this loyalty was for naught. Suzanne Delma (Martine Chevalier) is the company human resources manager who tries to help Philippe with his difficult job but has her own loyalty to the workers whom she cares about. Chevalier gives a fully developed spin on her character and Suzanne is both likable and capable. Boss Hugo (Lucas) puts a Simon Legree kind of spin on his high-powered, ruthless executive.

Samir Guesmi nicely plays Adji Zerouane, the company’s cafeteria manager who must deal with his own world of food preparation and uncooperative workers. The character becomes a muse, of sorts, to Philippe, giving the young man his insight on life and the reality of the work place. While Adji takes the hardest hits, he is always an optimistic realist and the actor gives the character full-fleshed integrity and honor.

Techs are good, without bringing attention, and the film makes a terrific companion piece to another French film that gives a look, albeit from a very different viewpoint, into the Gallic corporate world and the impact on its workers. But, don’t get me wrong. ”Work Hard Play Hard” stands quite well on its own two feet. I give it a B+.

Philippe Seigner (Jérémie Rénier, "Brotherhood of the Wolf") has been picked as the protege of his boss Hugo Paradis (Laurent Lucas, "In My Skin") and begun a new romance with single mom Eva (Cylia Malki, "La Vie Promise").  Philippe's promising outlook takes a dark turn when his first assignment, a pre-takeover consultation, will test his moral fiber and jeopardize his personal life.  Philippe learns the truth behind MacGregor Management Consulting's motto, "Work Hard, Play Hard."

With his bravura debut, director Jean-Marc Moutout makes a new movement, the French exploration of the societal implications of making a living, official (Per Fly's "The Inheritance and Jan Schütte's "Supertex" loosely expand the movement to continental Europe).  Moutout follows in the wake of director Laurent Cantet, whose "Human Resources" and "Time Out" had a family focus at their core, but while his story is aligned with Cantet's first film, his observations zoom in on the conflict between financial gain and personal ethics.

In an industrial plant, HR manager Suzanne Delmas (Martine Chevalier, "Jefferson in Paris") hangs an audit memo while line manager Roland Manin (Olivier Perrier, "Read My Lips") grouses about such company expenditures that don't end up in his paycheck.  Back in Paris, young and eager Philippe wonders why Hugo has chosen him for a challenging new project.  'Because you had the worst profile,' replies his boss.  Philippe travels to Janson and begins to conduct an efficiency survey with is met with suspicious resistance by company employees.  He's befriended by cafeteria chef Adji (Samir Guesmi, "The Code"), himself an outsider, but when the employees of Janson begin to comprehend that they are being bought out, Philippe becomes persona non grata across the board.  Hugo praises Philippe's analysis of Janson and asks him to assess its employees.  Philippe, realizing that he is being tasked with deciding who will stay and who will go, reacts emotionally, begging his girlfriend Eva for advice.  Eva questions Philippe's need to continue his employment with MacGregor, but refuses to make his decision for him.

Anyone who has ever suffered through a corporate merger will recognize all the painful phases and the tense work environment on display here.  Long time employees who have never questioned their job security exhibit something that looks like, but is not quite, entitlement.  Reality sets in, accompanied by the seven phases of grief - shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger depression, resignation and acceptance.  Moutout, Olivier Gorce and Ghislaine Jégou's magnificent script captures every nuance of the takeover from the point of view of an outsider with a different, but no less stressful, job-related crisis, who travels the same emotional curve in keeping his job as those losing theirs.

Rénier finds the perfect pitch for Philippe as a likable, unremarkable cog who outwardly appears quite lucky.  He's not aggressive enough to succeed in business, but is pushed by the drive of Lucas, whose performance is the yang to Rénier's ying.  Lucas's Paradis has a friendly swagger that hides fierce ambition and fear of failure.  Watch the two interact during a scene where Philippe questions a clerk.  Rénier is polite mediocrity, his ineffectiveness unveiled when Lucas's ruthlessness achieves results.  Guesmi is terrific support as the friendly Muslim who treats the racism he encounters as a matter of course.  Chevalier and Perrier are terrific providing the female and male reactions to ageism.  Malki is an opaque Eva, but her character is the one small weakness of the script - Eva and Philippe's relationship is too instantaneous, Eva's presence more a barometer of Philippe's resolve than a believable love interest.

Moutet's locations deepen his story, the comfortable, worn Janson facility nothing like the soulless Parisian glass tower complex housing MacGregor (Philippe describes working there 'like being in a jar').  Philippe's indecision is underlined by his train commutes which shuttle him from Eva in Paris to his off site work at Janson (and where he overhears an anonymous executive criticize an underling's presentation while he prepares his own for his mentor). Original music by Silvain Vanot gives emotional depth without any cliche and a terrific bar band adds appropriate discord.

Will Philippe 'drink the Koolaid?'  Moutet keeps his audience guessing. "Work Hard, Play Hard" is a richly structured drama that heralds the arrival of a strong new filmmaker.


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