La Syndicaliste (The Sitting Duck)  (15) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Jean-Paul Salomé, France/Germany, 2022, 121 mins, in French with subtitles

Cast:  Isabelle Huppert, Grégory Gadebois, Anne Lauvergeon

Review by Carol Allen

This film is based on the true story of Maureen Kearney, the union representative at a French multinational nuclear power house, who discovered a secret deal germinating between her employers, the EDF and the Chinese, which would make the company’s owners even richer than they already were and throw most of their employees out of work –  not to mention other serious political implications.   So this sounds like it’s going to be a French take on the “fight for rights” genre, such as Silkwood and Erin Brokovich, only with Isabelle Huppert as the heroine instead of Meryl Streep or Julia Roberts. 

However the film opens with Maureen’s cleaning lady discovering her employer bound, blindfolded and gagged, having been the victim of a vicious assault and rape.  Presumably, we assume, a victim of the forces she is fighting.  

We then go back a few months to the start of Maureen’s battle to expose the deal.  Particularly prominent is her relationship with the former boss of the company, Marina Foïs  (Anne Lauvergeon), who is embittered about the way she has been manoeuvered out of the company in favour of a man, who supports the covert deal.

For the first part of the film we follow Maureen’s battle to expose the plot.  But when we get to the assault on her, that’s when the film’s real meat is revealed.  We’ve seen a certain amount of misogyny in the attitudes of the male dominated workplace towards both Marina and Maureen.  But when the police start to investigate the attack on her, the male officers in charge assume, because of certain vulnerabilities in her past, that Maureen has staged the attack herself.  And the rampant misogyny of the system Maureen is up against is revealed in its full power.  She is, as the film’s English title describes her, “the sitting duck”.

Huppert is both strong and then vulnerable in the role, as her persona is systematically and humiliatingly destroyed.  With her huge spectacles and her frequent renewing of her bright red lipstick, it is almost like seeing her don her armour for battle in the early scenes.  But then the battle armour is gone and her vulnerability exposed, most notably in the horrifyingly humiliating scenes with the police gynecologist. 

Particularly strong in the supporting cast is Grégory Gadebois as her laid back but ever supportive husband and Aloïse Sauvage in the small but important role of the young policewoman, who stands up to her male colleagues and discovers evidence that helps support Maureen’s account.