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by Rose Finlay

Nicolas Silhol, France

Emilie (Céline Sallette) is the face of a new neo-liberal human resource machine. It is her job to make employees quit rather than fire them, by presenting them with untenable working conditions and a finely-honed method of making them feel unwanted in the workplace. When one of these employees commits suicide, an investigation against the company begins and the corporate machine looks for someone to place the blame upon. Emilie must come to terms with her own culpability and figure out a way forward.

With its focus of employee rights, “Moral Harassment” (workplace harassment), and the legality of potentially destructive modern human resource policies, Corporate comes off as a distinctly French film. Much of the film’s dramatic drive stems from the moral and legal implications of the practice of pressuring an employee to quit their job. This comes off oddly to American viewers who are more used to at-will employment and how relatively simple it is to be fired there, making the actions of Emilie and her company seem unnecessary. However, in France, where there are strong unions and employment protections, this is an important and topical issue. An example of how seriously the French take this issue can be seen in a French Supreme Court decision in 2014 where the court sided with and granted compensation to an employee who had experienced “moral harassment” in the workplace even though the employer apologized and provided a rather extensive amount of support to the employee (including two months of paid sick leave). To foreign audiences Corporate can play like some sort of bizarre alternative universe where corporations must be as underhanded as possible to get rid of their employees, and meanwhile run the risk of severe punishments if they are caught doing so. This is so far removed from what is the norm in countries such as the U.S. that it comes off almost comically bizarre.

While it is decently acted and scripted, the fact that it is a film about a “soulless, smiling” woman leading a human resource department that is written, directed, filmed, and produced entirely by men makes the whole thing come off a little skewed. Emilie is a bit of a stereotype, a dragon-lady with no emotions whom everyone loves to hate. But with the lack of female input into the script and direction, there is little to make us understand the reasoning for her actions, and the only thing done to soften her image is the introduction of a husband and child, which also fits neatly into the cliché of female characters. However, in general the film is solidly acted and while the moral implications may strike some as a bit over-the-top, it is interesting to see how other countries handle the complex issues of the modern workplace.