French Tech

****

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

French Tech
"This is satire. Sharp, observant, but unlike British films in similar vein, never cutting."

What a lovely, sweet, endearing, different film is Les Deux Alfred aka French Tech. It begins inauspiciously enough with Alexandre explaining to his bank manager that his life’s a mess. His relationship with his wife (a sonar techy in a submarine) has taken a turn for the worse - “a plongé”, for those who appreciate less than subtle French punning - with the result that they are separated, his bank account is frozen, and he is out of work. Also, he's attempting to look after two very young children.

But hey! Look on the bright side: when she resurfaces, she will see how well he has coped and all will be fine once more! His bank manager is a tad more sceptical.

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A chance encounter at the creche sees Alexandre falling in with Arcimboldo, who is “self-employed”. Sort of. Because Arcimboldo is, in fact, the ultimate portfolio employee, filling in here, there and everywhere, as uber driver, as night security guard, as protester for rent (by the hour!). In between he is running a variety of speculative businesses... selling remaindered solar-powered face fans on Ebay, for instance or roaming the streets and gathering up out of power drones. Because, yes, he gets paid an amount for every drone he recharges.

Still, things are looking up for Alexandre, who lands a job working for a vague consultancy cum ad agency cum project management company. Only issue is the company - or rather, misanthropic boss, Aymeric (Yann Frisch) - has a strict NO CHILD policy This is made starkly clear later on as one employee is forced to clear their desk and depart in disgrace for the crime of being a parent.

It is all absolute nonsense. The job. The jargon. The project for which Alexandre has been recruited, which is primarily to butter up the Mayor of suburban Crosseuil, whence Alexandre fortuitously hails, who is looking for a project to put his commune on the map. Alexandre, in desperation, comes up with the idea of a drone challenge, a bit like robot wars, but airborne, and the game is on.

Two problems for Alexandre. First, he has fibbed to Aymeric in order to get a job. He has not mentioned the little ones at home. Though he almost inadvertently gives himself away, early on, by pulling out of his pocket the 2two Alfreds" of the title. These are twin monkey cuddlies that serve as comfort blanket to his youngest. Worse, he is paired up with ice maiden and executive whizz Séverine (Sandrine Kiberlain).

The latter appears not only unimpressed by Alexandre’s less than down-with-da-kids homespun approach to his new job, but also perpetually on the verge of working out his grand secret.

Great set-up. But there is more. Much more.

This is first and foremost a family film. Not just in the way that it tackles big questions like: how is one supposed to maintain any sort of family life when the workplace is infinitely hostile to families?

Family-oriented, too, in the makeup of the cast and crew. It is written and directed by Bruno Podalydès, who also plays the role of Arcimboldo. His brother Denis Podalydès is credited as contributing writer and for playing the part of Alexandre. In addition, and on screen at various points are Georges Podalydès (Alexandre’s son), Nino Podalydès (the Mayor’s son), Jean Podalydès (an out-of-breath courier). Is this a satire on nepotism, one of the many subjects at which Les Deux Alfred tilts? Or just a neat way of cutting down on acting costs?

English viewers, who may be unfamiliar with French actors, should look out for Vanessa Paradis, famous - or infamous - for Joe Le Taxi, which didn’t quite top the UK pop charts in 1988.

Les frères Poda have a whole host of targets in their sights. Not just anti-family tendencies in the workplace, but the ridiculousness of work culture in the round. Nonsense job titles. Meaningless jargon. Offices where people are encouraged to trampoline as self-expression, until it gets on the boss’s nerves. Then they are told to “jump less high”.

Portfolio jobs, which grant people the right to control their lives and then mercilessly strip them of all personal control. A recurrent theme is tiredness. Alexandre is tired. Séverine falls asleep on his bed at the end of a taxing day (no spoilers but no hanky-panky, either). Arcimboldo is tired. Even the taxi driver engaged to take Alexandre and his children home is so tired he pulls over and goes to sleep. So Alexandre must drive them all home. Including the driver.

Still, some of the film’s most pointed barbs are reserved for technology, which, while “making our lives easier” is also utterly ludicrous - risible! - in its everyday manifestation. There’s the talking watch. Also, the driverless car, increasingly at odds with Séverine. First it won’t do as it is told. Then it just goes awol, seemingly developing a mind of its own.

The ubiquitous drones! Look out, too, for “une glaviole”, over which the Mayor trips towards the end of the film.

It is a lovely word, a word coined by Bruno Podalydès, and means... well, it means a vague metal, mechanical object in which people get tangled and and it has become something of a trademark for their films. An in-joke, if you like.

This is satire. Sharp, observant, but unlike British films in similar vein, never cutting. I can imagine such a film being made by Armando Ianucci or Chris Morris. But I would expect that film to be a deal more hard-hitting and, as result, perhaps lose a smidgen of humanity along the way.

Whereas here I found myself smiling along, involved in the lives of Alexandre and Arcimboldo and Séverine, and their co-workers. I was willing them to succeed, to find a way through the awful dilemmas their lifestyle had dropped in their respective laps. And - minor spoiler - I cheered, at the end, as Aymeric got his come-uppance. Though even that made me smile.

Definitely a film to watch if you wish to emerge from 90 minutes of screen time in a good mood.

Catch it now as part of the online offering of the French Film Festival this week on its FFF@Home platform.

Reviewed on: 07 Dec 2021
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French Tech packshot
An unemployed man has two months while his wife is away to prove he can take care of the kids and find a job.

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French 2021

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