Anouk (Jeanne Jestin), a Parisian fourteen-year-old ninth grader, has to spend an obligatory week as a trainee in a company of her choice. Her papa was supposed to secure her a placement at a TV channel, a very interesting option from any adolescent’s point of view, but then the plan fell through practically at the last minute. Disgusted by his second-best offer (his own wine shop) and slightly panicky, Anouk begs for help her mother, Cyrielle (Emilie Dequenne). Cyrielle, contrary to her ex-partner, has always been the doer and the fixer – she bags Anouk’s internship in Serenite, an insurance company she works for, without any problems. Or so it seems at first.
Things take a turn for the worse very soon. First the girl is given nothing more exciting to do than a composition of post-it notes collage on the wall, a task only kindergarten kids would enjoy. Then she progresses to a supremely important “re-organizing a storage closet” (so, basically, cleaning it thoroughly) supervised by a duo of nasty, passive-aggressive women who constantly change their mind about what is right and wrong. That’s just a beginning. Soon Anouk has to witness her mother’s public humiliation at the hand of her superior in the cafeteria plus some mild sexual harassment and good, old bullying. By accident she discovers really nasty secrets the Serenite company (and her mommy dearest among others) keeps hidden. Welcome to the world of adults, ma petite.
It was a surprising movie, on more than one level and I mean it very positively. First, the portrayal of young Anouk and her experience I found very refreshing. The director tried not to whitewash things too much – the girl, even if underage, had to face the soul-crushing world of adults in its full ugliness. Underhanded tricks of big companies, mind-numbing office work without any perspective, favouritism, misogyny, nasty, gossiping employees, finally sexual harassment, it seems the naive Anouk has to grow up very quickly and readjust her ideas of about everything, her own parents included. Her maman does nothing to help, quite the opposite. Below the veneer of a self-made woman and a dynamic, successful professional she hides a lot of insecurities, even traumas, especially connected to her work.
Overall the director preferred realism over saccharine cliches and I suppose it is the biggest strength of this movie; another asset – the film is full of wonderfully observed details about how professional and private needs frequently clash. I personally enjoyed an ending shot of a dark skinned cleaner at the office whose two small boys he’s brought to work because he obviously has no other place to take them. Such a simple scene, almost without any dialogue, and it tells you so much about the working reality in France (and elsewhere too). And the ending – it was so good and so real! No easy answers, no instant fixes, almost no hope… just Anouk and her thoughts.
A surprisingly watchable and realistic movie full of subtly (and not so subtly) ironic scenes. Completely recommendable for a quiet evening of intelligent fun.