The agency possessed by a woman in a corporate is one that contains immense scope for fiction – be it cinema, theatre, or literature. Director Veronique Jadin’s French-language film Employee of The Month examines the bizarre and often despicable situation of inequality that women are famously forced to stride through in modern workplaces. In turn, we get a ballsy black comedy that is worth a million guffaws as it is unbelievably clever in what it wishes to say.
Jasmina Douieb is Ines, a senior law resource at EcoCleanPro, a company that sells cleaning products. The hardworking woman also doubles up as the administrator, HR personnel, and telephone operator besides being in charge of a bunch of other menial jobs that are traditionally performed by women. The film opens with Ines welcoming a goldfish to the office, and later the new intern Melody (Laetitia Mampaka).
The premise of Employee of The Month is of Ines seeking a long-pending pay hike. She decides to have an honest chat with her boss Patrick (Peter Van Den Begin) who comfortably snubs the woman as well as her gender. We also witness how the workers at the office passively ill-treat Ines who was the only woman around them until that morning. If one of them draws a doodle of male genitalia on her scribble pad, the others dub menial jobs such as refilling the toilet paper and making coffee et al as her duty. The housekeeper, too, is no less unwilling to take orders from a woman irrespective of the seniority she wields at the workplace.
Interestingly named, Melody (who also happens to be the daughter of a woman previously employed at EcoCleanPro) soon becomes a hilarious element in the plot. Through her, we get a fly-on-the-wall account of the office until a mishap occurs – Ines accidentally kills Patrick. One event leads to another, the two dissimilar yet vigilant women transform the narrative into a massive hoot. Following the classic dark comedy template, tragedies occur – most by accident and a few by choice – one after the other. If Ines finds great joy in accidentally discovering a way to perform vendetta, Melody, too, spots an opportunity in the calamitous hour. She wishes to seek vengeance on a teacher (also a friend of Patrick) who had wronged her in the past. Here’s the big question: Will Ines stand by her?
Pacing smoothly from one hilarious act to another, Employee of The Month emerges as a rip-roaring fare that slyly underlines what women go through in a misogynistic world, particularly in a workplace where men hold the reigns. Writer-director Jadin further emphasizes this truth using a bunch of brief yet strong peripheral female characters (a cop and a corporate forewoman). While the sentiment it echoes and the utilization of the genre are starkly reminiscent of Pedro Almodóvar’s wild and utterly humourous Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, I couldn’t care less because of the way Ines and Melody go ballistic with their escapades.
Douieb and Mampaka are both terrific actors and their chemistry shines bright in a film that interestingly demands them to emote in a physically exerting fashion – something that would earn wide acknowledgment if performed by men in cinema. While the male cast is unanimously marvelous as they display a variant of casual and hardcore sexism each, Employee of The Month is also a fine exhibit of clever, keenly observed writing (Véronique Jadin, Nina Vanspranghe).
For the records, it isn’t easy to marry humor and tragedy onto a palette that discusses discrimination and gender. Filmmaker Jadin achieves that fine balance by putting together a smashing comedy that’s infuriating, hair-raising, and thought-provoking by the side.
French film Employee of The Month is screened at the 2022 Tribeca Festival.