Le Syndicaliste | Sitting Duck (2022)

March 5th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Jean-Paul Salome | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Gregory Gadebois, Yvan Attal, Marina Fois, Pierre Delardonchamps | France, Drama 121′

French director Jean-Paul Salome has made a complete pig’s ear of this true story about a dedicated union campaigner for a French nuclear industrial. Based on the book by investigative journalist Caroline Michel-Aguirre: ‘The Union Official’, The Syndicaliste – starring Isabelle Huppert – feels like two structurally flawed films rolled into one. The end result undermines both, and feels like a pyrrhic victory for a victim of crime dedicated to lifting the lid on malfeasance in the French nuclear sector during the time of Francois Hollande (2012-17).

The film opens in 2012 as Irish-born union official Maureen Kearney (Huppert) is found gagged and tied up in the basement of her Paris home. Flashback to several months earlier, and Salome establishes how this plucky woman is not afraid of making enemies or speaking her mind on behalf of her union members or standing up to her new boss Luc Oursel (Attal) who she suspects, quite rightly, of dodgy dealings in the nuclear business, having just replaced the more honourable Anne Lauvergeon (Marina Fois) in a political coup.

Kearney then finds out from a mole in the EDF nuclear agency that the Chinese are getting into bed with the French in a deal that will undermine workers and their employment rights. So we have a strong and appealing storyline that should make a successful film. But Salome and his co-writer manage to complicate things with a fractured narrative that flashes backwards and forwards making Kearney look increasingly ridiculous in fighting her corner, despite Huppert’s convincing performance as the sassy, well-presented woman executive, married to a faithful and supportive husband (Gregory Gadebois).

After an hour of dealing with the political whistleblowing side of the story, Salome then turns his focus on the detective procedural that hones in, with almost forensic detail, on Kearney’s purported attack. The film’s second half involves Kearney’s struggle to prove her innocence with endless gynaecological procedures and an intrusive ongoing interrogation by an unsympathetic police detective (Delardonchamps) who calls into question her side of events, unable to believe that her professional composure is consistent with that of a woman who has been raped. Eventually there is a legal inquiry and court case with Huppert having to defend herself, in similar vein to her role in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle. By the end we are incredulous at seeing her being exonerated – and not in a good way. MT



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