Grand Central (IFI)
Published 22/07/2014 | 13:59
A story of forbidden love is not new but running a story of forbidden love parallel to one about the dangers faced in a nuclear power plant is original.
First time director Rebecca Zlotowski constructs the plot around Gary (Tahar Rahim) a ne'er do well who gets a job in one of France's many nuclear power plants. It is not one of the jobs that requires education or great skill, just a certain ability to ignore the risks.
As important as learning the ropes of the job, is learning to integrate with the odd mix of outsiders who do the seasonal work. Contamination risks mean that they can each only work so long, so while they do so they set up temporary villages in local mobile home parks. They work together, they live together, they play together and the hierarchy that operates in the plant applies outside too. Longest serving employees Gilles (Olivier Gourmet) and Toni (Denis Menochet) are top dogs, so Gary's growing affection for Toni's soon-to-be wife Karole (Léa Seydoux) is not a route to success.
Zlotowski manages to create a great sense of atmosphere, it's sticky and claustrophobic, and at no point does she romanticise the relationship between Gary and Karole or eulogise the characters. They are stupid and selfish and cowardly by turns, but their romance feels real and their motives, although flawed, are understandable.
The performances all round are really good and it's great to see the very likeable Tahar Rahim playing a French character, up until now his roles have mostly been North African. Seydoux runs the risk of being typecast as naked, although in comparison to Blue is the Warmest Colour this role is almost prudish.
The glimpse inside the workings of the power plant is fascinating and the implicit commentary about the employment system for such a risky environment is very damning. The sense of claustrophobia is heightened by the film's neat running time, a now rare beast at just an hour and a half.