La Syndicaliste (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stuart Galbraith IV
  • Review Date: May 16, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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La Syndicaliste (Blu-ray Review)


Jean-Paul Salomé

Release Date(s)

2022 (February 20, 2024)


Le Bureau (Kino Lorber)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B

La Syndicaliste (Blu-ray)

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La Syndicaliste (“The Trade Unionist,” 2022) is an okay French drama based on the scandal surrounding whistleblower Maureen Kearney who, in trying to out a secret deal between a state-owned nuclear power utility and Chinese investors threatening both state security and thousands of jobs, becomes the victim of a home invasion and sexual assault, but later is accused by authorities of fabricating the incident. Early scenes in the film suggest a Silkwood-type conspiracy thriller, but the film, based on Caroline Michel-Aguirre’s same-named book, is really about corporate misogyny and how even the strongest of women are seen as easy, vulnerable targets leveraged when big money is involved.

Isabelle Huppert stars as Kearney, an indefatigable trade unionist for the nuclear power company Areva. Although the Fukushima disaster and other controversies involving nuclear power are mentioned, the divisive nuclear industry itself is largely incidental to the plot, and Kearney clearly loves her job. When Areva’s female president steps down and is replaced by the inexperienced but politically ambitious Luc Oursel (Yvan Attal), tensions rise between him and the union, while Kearney becomes aware of a deal memo through a whistleblower outlining a transfer of French nuclear technology to a Chinese conglomerate. She begins receiving anonymous threats after meetings with various French ministers and filing depositions from Areva about the agreement, which they initially deny.

On December 17, 2012, Kearney is found by her housekeeper, bound and gagged to a chair in the basement laundry room, an “A” carved with a knife on her stomach and a knife handle buried in her vagina. Incredibly, police investigating the incident quickly decide that Kearney is lying, that she made up the entire incident, building a case to charge her with criminal fabrication and possible jail time.

The film, then, is really about how even a woman as strong and seemingly bulletproof as Kearney are subjected to endless misogyny by her dismissive male colleagues at Areva, and labeled as unreliable and even criminally untruthful by police investigators. The absence of fingerprints or DNA at the crime scene, Kearney’s emotional fortitude in the wake of her attack, her history of a past rape and decision to seek therapy are all used against her. In an unsettling scene a forensic doctor, at the lead investigator’s insistence, repeatedly probes her vagina, a decision she can hardly refuse no matter how humiliating. The film tries structuring with a Passage to India-like ambiguity, but there’s little doubt Kearney’s attack really occurred.

The picture appears to follow Kearney’s story with great accuracy but oddly completely avoids one major fact about her: Kearney is, in fact, Irish, not French-born. The film never mentions this, though it does show her teaching English lessons to college students, Huppert speaking English with a French, not Irish accent. This would seem a minor point, but I wonder if police prejudice and hostility toward Kearney was not limited to her being a woman, but also some kind of anti-immigrant bias. (Kearney moved to France with her French husband in the 1980s.) If that was indeed one factor in their determination to discredit her, the film avoids it entirely.

La Syndicaliste was originally given the awful English title The Sitting Duck but, apparently, saner heads prevailed and Kino, at least, opted for the original French one. The film itself is handsomely made, but plays more like a polished TV-movie while its themes, though effectively realized, aren’t much different from a better-than-average episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Huppert, however, well-preserved at 70, is excellent, raising the overall quality of the work with her fine performance, and she resembles the real Maureen Kearney as well.

Kino’s Blu-ray of the picture, shot digitally for 2.39:1 ‘scope presentations, is up to contemporary technical standards. There’s not a lot of visual razzle-dazzle here, but color, contrast, and sharpness impress throughout, as does the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix (a 2.0 mix is also offered). The English subtitles are optional, and the disc is Region “A” encoded.

Bonus features consist of interviews with director Salomé and the real Maureen Kearny, along with a trailer.

Despite cover art and text promoting La Syndicaliste as “an investigative thriller set in the world of nuclear power and politics,” the film is really more a feminist drama and, on those terms, is compelling and intelligently made, though not particularly exceptional, either.

- Stuart Galbraith IV