BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: in bad company.

LIFE ISN’T the easiest for poor Philippe Seigner. Having worked so hard to get into a hotshot management firm (Macgregors), he’s forced to do the dirty work in trying to restructure a moderately successful company, Janson, out in the provinces. He has no friends, everyone at the company hates him because they rightly feel their jobs are being threatened, and he’s missing his new girlfriend. Plus there’s also the little matter of his conscience – it’s essentially a choice between giving up everything he’s ever worked for or selling a whole bunch of people’s careers short.

Violence des Echanges en Milieu Tempéré (Work Hard Play Hard) could easily have turned into either a TV movie about the perils of big business or a bombastic movie about the perils of big business. Lucky it manages to retain a middle ground, somewhat restrained and always compelling. Even if the story doesn’t feel the freshest, there’s a subtle undertone of anger and frustration, as the film takes shots at the absolutely dastardly job that a firm like Macgregors does and the global capitalist structure that seems to allow for a (seemingly useless) business like this to operate.

This is compellingly acted. In particular, Jérémie Rénier (who was so good in the brilliant Dardennes Brothers’ L’Enfant, and who will be seen shortly in Niki Caro’s version of The Vintner’s Luck) stands out as the young professional who can flit between compassionate and smarmy within a few minutes. Samir Guesmi also stands out as Janson’s staffroom chef, himself a fellow outsider at the company. Moutout (who is making his feature film debut) relies on ellipsis in his storytelling – scenes pass by without warning, and relationships develop suddenly between scenes (perhaps this approach doesn’t fully work in terms of the relationship between Seigner and Eva – it felt a little too sudden, and the script had to resort to characters telling the audience how far the relationship has progressed). All this audience catch-up can be a little disorientating, but also results in an engaging watch. The subtle emotional scenes have a kind of equivalence to the cold office scenes, fully magnifying the choice that Seigner has to make. And just like in life, this film shows that you only realise in hindsight the importance of the little scenes, and the choices you make of them.