More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)
* Contains spoilers *
L'enfer, c'est les autres
This quotation was chosen, because, in the film (if not in the play), it is Sandra’s thoughts about herself and about what others, including her husband, may be thinking about her that are now at the root of being off work.
That and the inhuman approach that Sandra’s boss, Dumont, has cooked up with the connivance of the foreman, Jean-Marc, of requiring her fellow employees to say whether they would rather receive a bonus of 10,000 Euros than for her to return to work (when sixteen have done the work of seventeen during her absence, albeit by doing three hours’ overtime, and when Jean-Marc prejudges the issue, by saying that Sandra is no longer up to the job).
‘Bonus’ has been used to translate the French word prime, which, in practice, can serve to mean, when qualified, terms as diverse as ‘severance pay’ (prime de liceniciement) and ‘productivity bonus’ (prime de rendement), so Il a eu une prime en récompense de son travail (‘He received a bonus for his work’). Despite how some of the colleagues talk of spending ma prime, it does seem to be in the nature of a one-off payment, of which there is no future guarantee, and not a pay-rise (for which there is the separate word une augmentation - as, at least, the term is used in France).
As Sandra is forced to approach each of her colleagues, she hears their reasons why they have already spent what, for all that we know, they only recently knew that they would be getting, and have not yet received. It is almost un fait accompli. The deviltry is in making it seem as if they decide, when Dumont (with Jean-Marc) has (as emerges late on) arbitrarily set one against the other (sc. the bonus against her returning to work), and two main questions arise in consequence :
(1) The overdose that Sandra takes in despair – is it so unrealistic, as two matriarchs were tutting after the screening, that she could be out and approaching the last few employees that night ?
(2) If Sandra wanted recourse in employment law, what claim is open to her (in the UK, as against Belgium, this would be unfair dismissal) - though, when so many of her colleagues have to work au noir, could they risk being involved ?
(1) Well, Xanax, which is used to treat anxiety, is one of the few medications that states (in the patient information leaflet) :
'If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember unless it is time for your next dose.
Do not take a double dose to make up for a missed dose.'
The article linked here talks about the risks of overdose, including having to take 975 times the maximum human dose to reproduce the cardiopulmonary collapse that is found in rats at this level : it lists, as manifestations of overdose, ones that include somnolence, confusion, impaired coordination, diminished reflexes, and coma.
Although death has been reported as an outcome of overdose, since Sandra said as soon as she had taken the tablets what she has done, and Manú starts by trying to induce vomiting when the ambulance is being called, it does not seem improbable that Sandra could escape severe symptoms, and be able to discharge herself quite quickly.
(2) As to employers' practices in the field of mental health, they may be harder on our attempts to make a recovery : we see Sandra buoyed by how many support her, but understandably does not wish to betray colleagues on fixed-term contracts by accepting the offer, as it is put to her, of reinstatement in her post.
Dumont’s folly, if he actually values Sandra after all (rather than is trying to manipulate her to do as she does), is to think that she sees things as casually as he does, and to say that he will instead not renew the contract of someone working on a fixed term : although he is technically right that this is not a dismissal, she has been represented as having had no protection from being dismissed anyway herself, in a world where employees can vote against someone ready to return from illness…
Whether that is possible in employment law in Belgium does not much matter, for the film – without being over-specific that it is set in one country rather than another – asks us to accept that it is so (or effectively so*).
* In fact, a briefing on employment law in Belgium from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer suggests that, for dismissals made before 1 April 2014, it was open for blue-collar workers to ‘claim that their dismissal was not based on their performance or attitude, or on economic reasons and, if the employer could not prove otherwise, they were entitled to an extra six months’ indemnity’.
In the law operative for service since 1 January 2014, there now appears to be no (or less) distinction between white- and blue-collar workers, and for it to be open to all to require written reasons for dismissal within two months (as well as to receive a specified minimum notice).
In conclusion, it does not appear, in Belgium of recent date, that an employer could succeed (except for the reasons stated) in lawfully seeking to dismiss Sandra in this way in these circumstances.
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Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)