Nicolas Silhol/ France/ 2017/ 95 mins
Part of the French Film Festival UK 2017
An opening shot showing a team building trip involving husky-sledding tells you all you need to know about Corporate with sledgehammer symbolism. It’s dog-eat-dog folks. This direct approach is maintained throughout this functional thriller that is as generic as its almost heroically bland title, but is perfectly enjoyable thanks to excellent performances and its willingness to foreground unlikeable characters.
Chief among these is Emilie (Céline Sallette), a ruthless HR coordinator employed by the French branch of a nebulous multi-national corporation to trim the workforce. She does this using Machievellian manipulation techniques to get those targeted to eventually quit. When one of these targets fails to take the hint, she switches to brutal honesty. This leads to his suicide, and to her being thrown under the bus by the very executives who hired her, personified by Froncart (Lambert Wilson). Looking to save her own skin, she forms an uneasy alliance with Marie (Violaine Fumeau), the employment standards investigator who is looking into the case.
Corporate is an efficient, pared-back drama with few surprises and the look of a high-end executive TV production, without any of the depth; stuffing it all like sausage meat into a lean 95 minutes. It’s written and directed by Nicolas Fleureau and Nicolas Silhol, based on their own office experiences, and there is nothing remotely unbelievable onscreen. One of the film’s flaws in fact is that the mistreatment of employees is anything but revelatory. Thankfully, there’s a certain taut intensity that keeps it watchable, and Emilie’s journey to redemption isn’t overly Damascene, as she uses the very steely, sly techniques that propelled her up the company as weapons against them.
A few more scenes between Emilie and Wilson’s turtle-necked CEO would have been welcome as two excellent performers instantly raise the material when they’re together onscreen. Wilson is an extraordinarily calm performer, with the smallest calibration in his style being all that’s needed to utterly distinguish his dastardly role here from his beatific monastery leader in the sublime Of Gods and Men. Fumeau is also tenacious as the unconventional standards investigator, and an enjoyable crusading odd-couple dynamic is established between the smart, businesslike Emilie and the more slovenly, informal Marie.
Corporate has enough of a subtext regarding the lengths to which women have to go to be taken seriously in an office environment for it to be more than just surface-level enjoyable; and an admirable devotion to keeping Emilie as something of an ethically dubious protagonist. It may be ultimately somewhat forgettable, but is enjoyable white-collar jousting while it lasts.