La Syndicaliste

Reviewed by Roger Gook

Last Sunday, Keswick Film Club showed "La Syndicaliste", a French film based on a true story about a whistleblower in the French nuclear industry. Maureen, played by Isabelle Huppert, is the trade union leader concerned about proposed changes that will lead to the dismissing of thousands of workers. As she investigates the plans, it seems there is much more that is not being revealed, involving a sell out to the Chinese nuclear industry. The more she asks questions, the more she is rebuffed and pressured to back off.

Threats and intimidation mount, and the film moves from the intricacies of nuclear industry and shows how this affects Maureen. The threats mount further until she is attacked in her own home, tied up and sexually assaulted. The police investigate this but find no evidence and in their frustration turn from the attack against Maureen and charge her with fabricating the incident. In the ensuing court hearing further evidence is produced, using her past life when she had been raped and had an alcoholic period. She totally denied any fabrication but after intense pressure she agreed to confess, just to get an ending.

After a number of years she was still finding it difficult to live with the way she had given in. A story emerges of an attack on a woman in the water industry which had remarkable similarities to her own experience. Using this and further inconsistencies in the evidence of her own case – how do you tie your own hands together? – eventually clears her name.

The film tells this powerful story well, with sufficient dramatic skill to maintain the tension, but in the end it is Isabel Huppert's performance which gives the film its authority and strength. She is rightly acclaimed as one of Europe's greatest actors and is able show Maureen's strength of purpose while suggesting the weakness and vulnerability inside. Part of the evidence used against her is that she does not show sufficient distress after the attack, and Huppert shows the complexity of the emotions involved in a wonderfully controlled and subtle performance.