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March 12, 2007 | by  | in Film |
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The Right of the Weakest (La Raison du Plus Faible)

Showing as part of the French Film Festival.

The steel factory workers in Leige were called the ‘Aristocrats of Labour’.They were seen as heroes in this working-class, industrial town. The factory killed or crippled many due to poor safety standards, long hours, and shift work destroyed marriages. However, the workers loved the factory if for no other reason than it kept them fed. They were strong and united, they became each other’s family as their real ones drifted away. After five generations of being exploited and the workers had finally won a decent wage, the bosses moved the factory to a place where the workers were even poorer and more fragile. The effect of the free market and globalisation on Leige and its workers are devastating.

Paralleling the destruction of this working class community is the erosion of the lives and dignity of five of its residents. Jean-Pierre, a former steel worker who lost the use of his legs in the factory, now lives on the twentieth floor of a run-down public housing block. Robert, Jean-Pierre’s best friend from the factory days, is now an alcoholic who desperately misses the solidarity and pride of his former employment.

Patrick is an unemployed university graduate who spends his time taking care of his son and gardening. His self-esteem is crumbling, as he discovers that educated workers can be thrown on the scrap heap just like manual ones. Carole, Patrick’s wife, who works at an industrial dry cleaners (an industry that is synonymous with the oppression and misery of working women) is becoming the target of Patrick’s desolation. Marc, a career criminal who has just been released from jail, is trying to go straight by working a painfully mundane job at a brewery. They are united by the reality that their gloomy lives are only getting worse.

When Jean-Pierre, Robert and Patrick, who play cards together to pass their unfulfilled days away, meet Marc, they come up with a crude plan for armed robbery. They are as far away from Tarantino-type gangsters as you will find. They are ordinary men who see this as the only away possible to escape from never-ending deprivation. All they really want is to feel useful and the planning and execution of the robbery gives them that sense of purpose. This film does not pull any of its many punches. It is pretty much the film adaptation of Karl Marx’s theory of alienation. Work, under capitalism, sucks the life, creativity and humanity out of the worker. The only thing worse is having no job at all – you are labelled by the powers that be as worthless. This film condemns the system that created this lose-lose situation for workers.

The Right of the Weakest is social realism at its very best. A truly powerful, engrossing and insightful piece of cinema.

LUCAS BELVAUX

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