A cruel corporate world
by Fabien Lemercier
- Neons, impersonal corridors, open spaces where dark-suited men and women, keep criss-crossing one another all day long : welcome in the new Century's harsh corporate world, Francesca Comencini style
Neons, impersonal corridors, small stall-offices and open spaces full of computers where dark-suited men and women, keep criss-crossing one another all day long : welcome in the new Century’s harsh corporate world, Francesca Comencini style. With I Like Working (Mi piace lavorare), the Italian director, as committed as ever, explores the daily reality of ‘mobbing’, a perverse and sophisticated form of harassment which usually pushes the unwanted employees to resign, which is a cheap way a renewing the staff, cheaper and less fussy than firing them.
The victim ? Anna (Nicoletta Braschi), a forty-year-old mother of a teenage girl, having a small post in the accounts department of a big firm who has just been absorbed in a merger.
Why is she victimised ? Because she does not see the cruelty behind appearances. Because she takes it all without protesting, blames and humiliations delivered by the cold impersonal mouth of management for the sake of productivity. Because she likes working, so much as to silently endure all the psychological suffering, until it turns to complete depression. The beginning of her tragedy is made of small petty frustrations inflicted upon her by her colleages. Her boss first totally ignores her and then supresses, without telling her, part of her attributions, before he ‘entrusts’ her with a ‘mission’ (under pressure of course): finding the copy of a bill which is actually in his drawer. When Anna finds out he has been fooling her, she steps a little further into the dangerous spiral which eventually puts her into the degrading and useless position of photocopier controler. Deprived of her previous office and status, cut off from the others, her reaction is to ask her cold-blooded torturer for more work, so as to feel less lonely and useless. This renewed proof that ‘she likes working’ does not save her but makes her drown deeper, into the company’s warehouse, where she is supposed to time the work pace of a group of male- chauvinists whose threats to her verge on physical harassment. Stuck between hierarchical superiors who endeavour to make her an outcast and her colleages who see her as a spy, Anna eventually breaks down and becomes really ill. When she comes back, she is ready to resign. She is saved at the very last minute by the trade unions, which help her leave the company with a big indemnity.
Francesca Comencini conveys the pain of this modern ‘passion’ with unfailing realism and accuracy. She adds to an almost documentary work on the daily facts of corporate life the moving description of a woman’s fight against isolation and of a disciplined mind being crushed by inhuman forces. And that is a touché. Far from Pinocchio’s fairy, and far from her husband and work-partner Roberto Benigni’s cinematic universe, Nicoletta Braschi plays the heroin’s complete anonimity, emphasizing the way she desperately hangs on a work which gradually destroys her and sentences her to unescapable loneliness, depression, and physical exhaustion, in the dim blue-ish neon world of metros and offices. Alone without a friend or a lover to comfort her, Anna works around the clock like a beast of burden, as if she was on a quarantine. Her daughter Morgana (played by the actress’ own daughter, Camille Dugay Comencini) is made the spectator of her disintegration, and while the mother is gradually, painfully, realising that an Italian company is a far more dangerous place than she imagined, the daughter finds reassurance and support in her frienship with the immigrants who live in her district in Rome. Their spontaneous solidarity is in total contrast with the individualism and paranoia which prevail in Anna’s firm. However, the daughter’s friends’ hopeful presence and the unexpected ‘happy end’ cannot erase the overwhelming cruelty of psychological harassment in today’s corporate world, an issue already focused on, in cinema, by several European directors such as the French director Jean-Marc Moutout (Violence des échanges en milieu tempéré). These directors’ commitment, as well as Francesca Comencini’s, is all the more impressive that they refuse the easy ways of commercial cinema to stand for what they care for and dedicate their talent to a noble cause, humanity.
(Translated from French)