CINEMA LIBRE STUDIO
PRESENTS A NORD OUEST FILM
AT WAR (EN GUERRE)
After promising 1100 employees that they would protect their jobs,
the managers of a factory decide to suddenly close up shop.
"Whoever fights can lose. Whoever does not fight, has already lost."
– Bertolt Brecht
Two years ago, Perrin Industries made an agreement with the workers of their Agen (France) car part supply plant to increase working hours for no additional pay, and remove bonus payments. The sacrifice on the part of the workers, Perrin Industries claimed, would make the plant sustainable and offer job security for the coming five years. Despite reaching a 17 million euros profit for the year, Perrin Industries walked away from their promise of job security and enacted a plant closure after two years of employee sacrifices.
The workers of the Agen plant had put in 470 hours of free labor each over the course of two years, which provided a total of 517,000 hours of free labor (saving over 5 million euros for the company) as a part of the trade for job security. After making such sacrifices, the employees were left with insufficient severance offers and little empathy from management.
Taking to the streets to protest, and initiating a 23-day strike, Laurent Amédéo (Vincent Lindon) and fellow union representatives receive an opportunity to meet with the President’s special adviser who has been tasked with resolving the escalating crisis. The government, who had previously paid state subsidies to Perrin Industries to assist in maintaining their Agen plant, refuse to further intervene after courts ruled in favor of the right of the company to enact the closure.
As the union member employees struggle to unite behind one clear position, parent company Dimke Group presents a united corporate front. Leveraging the power of their refusal to return to work, the employees seek a meeting with the CEO of Dimke Group, who took a salary of 9 million euros the previous year, and oversaw a 25% increase in shareholder dividends.
With no compromise in sight, the employees find an investor to takeover the plant and save their jobs, but fearing the competition, Dimke Group refuse the sale. Running out of ways to display the desperation of his fellow workers, Amédéo takes drastic action.
After promising 1100 employees that they would protect their jobs, the managers of a factory decide to suddenly close up shop. Laurent takes the lead in a fight against this decision.
A STÉPHANE BRIZÉ FILM STARRING VINCENT LINDON
World Premiere - Cannes Film Festival 2018 | U.S. Premiere - Chicago Int’l Film Festival 2018
2018 | France | Drama | French with English subtitles| Scope | 5.1 | 115 mins.
Despite heavy financial sacrifices on the part of their employees and record profits that year, the management of Perrin Industries decides to shut down a factory. The 1100 employees, led by their spokesman Laurent Amédéo, decide to fight this brutal decision, ready to do everything to save their jobs.
AT WAR (En Guerre) is directed by Stéphane Brizé and stars Vincent Lindon. The film was an official selection at the 2018 Cannes International Film Festival and won the prestigious FIPRESCI Prize for Best Film awarded by the International Federation of Film Critics.
Other than Lindon, the cast is comprised largely of non-professional actors. It has been released theatrically in France, Italy and Portugal.
Brizé and Lindon have teamed up on three films previously including THE MEASURE OF A MAN (2015), also about a factory worker, which earned Lindon César Awards for Best Actor; A FEW HOURS OF SPRING (2012) about a man released from prison who lives with his mother and MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON (2009), a married man who falls for his child’s teacher.
Stéphane Brizé is a French director, producer, screenwriter and actor known for AT WAR (2018), THE MEASURE OF A MAN (2015), which was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, and A WOMAN’S LIFE (2016). Brizé attended the University Institutes of Technology, and began his career in Paris in the theater and television before moving to short and feature films.
To understand what lies behind what you see in various media that regularly go out to cover sporadic violence accompanying industrial unrest. And instead of “behind,” it would be better to say “before.” What occurs before these sudden outbreaks of violence? What roads lead to it? Anger, nurtured by a sense of humiliation and despair, building over weeks of struggle, and revealing, as we will see, a colossal imbalance in available forces.
The film’s cowriter Olivier Gorce and I started out working on twin axes – conceiving of the film as a romantic epic while piecing it together with no dressing-up of real life. The film evolved around the description of an economic mechanism that ignores human considerations in parallel with the observation of the rising anger of workers caught in the tumult of plans to shut down their factory. An anger embodied notably by a union representative who deploys no political rhetoric, just the necessity of giving voice to his pain and indignation as well as that of his coworkers. His point of contention: refusing to be stripped of his job to allow a company to make even more money than it already does, despite the same company pledging to protect the workers’ jobs in return for them making financial sacrifices.
No, absolutely not. If that were the case, it would have been a way of making the real say something that it does not say. This situation is so unexceptional that one hears of similar situations every day in the media, but without truly coming to terms with the issues and mechanisms at work. The example of Perrin Industries shown in the film, is that of Goodyear, Continental, Allia, Ecopla, Whirlpool, Seb, Seita, and so on. In every case, expert analysis has revealed the lack of economic difficulties or absence of a threat to competitivity.
Political in the etymological sense — it observes affairs of state — but I am not the mouthpiece of a particular party or union. I simply scrutinize a system that is objectively coherent from the markets’ viewpoint but, just as objectively, incoherent from a human viewpoint. And those two viewpoints are set against each other in the film. The human dimension against the economic dimension. How can these two world views possibly overlap? Can they even coexist nowadays? I find the subject interesting because I’m not convinced that many people grasp exactly what is behind all these plant closures that you hear about every day in the media. I don’t mean factories that close because they are losing money. I mean companies that close plants despite their being profitable.
Olivier Gorce and I met a vast number of people to be sure we grasped the ground rules in this type of situation: workers, HR execs, CEOs, lawyers who specialize in workers’ rights or in defending business interests. Our purpose was to avoid summarily setting dogmatic ideas alongside each other, rather we aimed to pit radically different viewpoints against each other, using solidly researched arguments.
Our meetings with a lawyer who specializes in defending workers whose factories shut down enabled us to understand the various stages of the process as they are laid down in law. That knowledge informed our encounters with Xavier Mathieu, a former union leader at Continental, who recounted how the conflict he experienced in 2009 had been organized and structured.
After these meetings, we found ourselves facing a huge volume of information. The aim then was to distill the narrative arc of a man and a group swept up in a battle to save their jobs while respecting the due process of law. All without drowning the audience in legal nuances and, above all, without locking ourselves into a story that illustrated an intrinsically French reality. We had to sift through it all, find ways to make intricate issues easily understood, define the starting point of the conflict, as well as its end point, and transform all the workers’ means of action into moments of hope or dejection. One fundamental issue, however, was never called into question: our workers are simply trying to protect their jobs. Until they reach a point where a number of them no longer want to continue the struggle—or no longer can—and decide to accept the company’s offer of a severance package. Which is very powerful dramatically because two persuasive viewpoints face off. With the constant necessity of allowing these viewpoints to be heard as objectively as possible.
That was one of the project’s fundamental complexities—peeling away the layers of a system without reducing the various protagonists to caricatures. There is an economic system that is served by men and women whose interests are quite simply not those of the workforce. But if there is one thing that emerges clearly from all that we saw, processed and analyzed, it is that the playing field is not level. As long as it is legal for a plant that is running a profit to shut down, the balance of power is skewed from the get-go. You see it at every stage of the conflict described in the movie. Until the mind-blowing conclusion, when we find out that although a plant slated to shut down must by law be put up for sale, there is no law compelling the owner to sell it. In that context, the workers have practically no chance of winning the battle. They can resist, hinder the implementation of layoffs for some time, impact the company’s image through spectacular actions that make headlines, or cause it to lose money through sit-ins, which major industrial groups obviously don’t like one bit, but in the end the workers’ financial fragility and lack of legal recourse mean they are unlikely to stop the plant from shutting down. The company’s strategy in this instance is to justify its sudden decision with arguments that must seem as objective as possible. Often by crunching numbers to back up their arguments.
It’s a relationship that grows film after film, year after year, and is truly extraordinary. It’s not so much the trust that exists between us that is essential to this process, but the complete absence of mutual sycophancy. After three films, in which I had Vincent playing men of few words, it was necessary to develop our practice and radically change the nature of the character and his arc. While continuing the necessary observation of the world. In this film, he is a man who speaks out, resists, fights back loudly. We both needed this because it’s one of our defining traits. We are invested with anger. A shift in the premise; an evolution of our practice: this role as a leader and this story fulfilled both those requirements.
La loi du marché marked the beginning of a new stage in my career, both in style and substance. This film was about using the experience of that earlier one as a stepping stone to revisit the method in order to take it even further. At the same time, it was also about continuing the process of observation of mechanisms of constraint operating in the world of work. With regard to working with non-professionals, they bring truthfulness to the dialogue I put in their mouths—the truthfulness of experience. That is colossal. It comes into play in the context of Vincent’s exceptional ability to embody a character, combining to create a representation of reality that fascinates and touches me enormously. Casting was a huge undertaking—we met hundreds and hundreds of people in Paris and the Lot-et-Garonne region where the film was shot. Exceptional encounters, incredible men and women, absolute commitment from everybody, a shoot of quite rare intensity. There were clearly moments when people had a sense of fighting to keep open a plant where they worked.
Everyone is treated exactly the same. The script is extremely precise. I give everyone their lines to learn. Nothing revolutionary, basically. Somewhere along the line, a story comes down to structured text and dialogue. All that interests me is that the result looks natural, as if it occurred at that particular moment. Whereas everything is thoroughly prepared, of course, and by absolute necessity in the light of the specific, technical topic we’re dealing with. There was no room for approximation. Same goes for technical aspects. The framing must seem spontaneous, whereas everything is planned out in detail.
We shot with one camera sometimes, and sometimes with two or even three. It depended on what we were aiming for. It may sound paradoxical, but a scene with 250 people does not necessarily require more cameras. I needed my three cameras for the scenes with fifteen people talking around a table. We needed to be “where it’s happening” to catch what’s being said, at the same time as we were “where it’s happening next” to catch what’s coming next. So we moved forward like that, walking a fine line between the precision of the script and the illusion that everything is happening on the spur of the moment.
Firstly, because the media play a major role in how a conflict of this kind is assimilated. It’s impossible not to involve them in the story, so it became a useful way of putting over information that facilitated understanding of how the situation was developing. It was also fascinating to juxtapose our news footage and movie footage. The film never attempts to put the media on trial, but it’s interesting for the audience to observe the disparity between the supposedly objective reporting of a situation in news bulletins and the reality of mechanisms at work behind the scenes of a conflict. That reality is captured here by the cinematic process. Broadcast news has no time for nuance. It merely reports events with some pictures, a voiceover and snippets of interviews. The result is that we know something is happening somewhere, but it is impossible to transcend our personal convictions. There is simply no room for that. Let’s think back to footage of Air France executives having shirts ripped off their back by strikers. The violence of that footage undermines the legitimacy of the workers’ cause because any normal person immediately sympathizes with the person who seems on the verge of a lynching. The violence of one misstep caught on film negates legitimate anger and struggle. It then becomes easy for politicians to jump on the bandwagon, naming and shaming so-called thugs. I don’t think any worker gets up in the morning intent on ripping the shirt off of the HR exec’s back. That footage of Air France executives embroiled in the workers’ anger is what started me thinking, what happened earlier for it to come to this? Months and weeks of struggle lead to incidents like that. News cameras are not there to record all that. Responsibility for showing that falls on movies and fiction.
Krzysztof Kieslowski said he had given up documentaries in order to go places to which his documentary camera gave him no access. I would say the same. Fiction allows me into places that would often be impossible to access as a documentary-maker. I refer to the meetings behind closed doors, with the President’s special adviser, for example. After completing an extensive period of research, I take the material that interests me in order to dig deeper in whatever seems important and pare down whatever seems less so for my story. I construct the story in such a way as to highlight exactly what I want to.
Vincent Lindon is a French actor and filmmaker, who won Best Actor at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival for his role in THE MEASURE OF A MAN (2015), which was also directed by AT WAR’s Stéphane Brizé. Lindon began his career in 1983 and had his breakthrough roles in L’ETUDIANTE (1988), and LA CRISE (1992).
Mélanie (CGT activist #1)
Chief Financial Officer
SIPI activist #1
Head of HR
SIPI activist #2
CGT activist #2
Mayor of Agen
President’s Special Adviser
CFE-CGC activist #1
Special Adviser’s Assistant
Romain de BOISSIEU
Confederation Security Guard
Confederation Exec #1
Confederation Exec #2
Mr. Censier (CEO Perrin France)
CGT activist #3
CFTC activist #1
CFTC activist #2
FO activist #1
CFE-CGC activist #2
SIPI activist #3
SIPI activist #4
DIMKE Lawyer #1
DIMKE Lawyer #2
CGT activist #4
FO activist #2
TV and radio reporters
Nicolas DE LABAREYRE
and Philip BOËFFARD
and Olivier GORCE
With the collaboration of
and Olivier LEMAIRE
Vincent LINDON and Stéphane BRIZÉ
Coralie AMÉDÉO A.R.D.A.
Director of Photography
1st Assistant Director
Sound Editing and Mix
Valérie SARADJIAN A.D.C.
Unit Production Manager
Assistant Production Manager
Third Assistant Production Designer
Make Up Artist
Camera & Electrical Department
Adrien DAL BELLO
Etienne FU-LE SAULNIERr
FRANCE 3 CINÉMA
With the participation of
In association with
LA BANQUE POSTALE IMAGE 11,
With the participation of
CENTRE NATIONAL DU CINÉMA
ET DE L’IMAGE ANIMÉE
With the support of
LA RÉGION NOUVELLE-AQUITAINE
AND DÉPARTEMENT DU LOT-ET-GARONNE IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE CNC
Chicago International Film Festival: Best Screenplay - Stéphanie Brizé & Olivier Gorce,
2018 Palic Film Festival: Best Film - Stéphanie Brizé, 2018
Globes de Cristal Awards (France): Best Film - Stéphanie Brizé, 2019
Globes de Cristal Awards (France): Best Actor – Vincent Lindon, 2019
Chicago International Film Festival: Gold Hugo - Stéphanie Brizé, 2018
Cannes Film Festival: Palme d’Or – Stéphanie Brizé, 2018
Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival – 2019 (Minnesota, USA)
French Film Festival – Providence - 2019 (Rhode Island, USA)
Göteborg Film Festival – 2019 (Sweden)
Euro Union Film Festival – 2018 (China)
Chicago International Film Festival – 2018 (USA)
Busan International Film Festival - 2018 (South Korea)
Film by the Sea Film Festival – 2018 (Netherlands)
Vukovar Film Festival – 2018 (Croatia)
Melbourne International Film Festival - 2018 (Australia)
PALIC European Film Festical – 2018 (Serbia)
Cannes Film Festival – 2018 (France)
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