FANTASIA22 REVIEW: L’employée du mois [Employee of the Month] [2022]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 78 minutes
    Release Date: 2022 (Belgium)
    Studio: Velvet Films
    Director(s): Véronique Jadin
    Writer(s): Véronique Jadin & Nina Vanspranghe

The most dangerous thing here is you.


It’s review day and everyone is laughing about what raises and bonuses they’re going to request this year. Nico (Alex Vizorek) jokes about asking for an SUV and money because it worked for someone else in the past. And why not? EcoClean Pro’s manager Patrick (Peter Van den Begin) decided to give his latest intern (Laetitia Mampaka‘s Melody) a stack of papers to shred on her first day, so it’s not much of a leap to assume the books have been cooked to allow for such extravagant perks to be passed around. Except, of course, when it comes to the team’s legal expert Inès (Jasmina Douieb). She’s worked here for seventeen years, does the equivalent of five jobs, and still makes the same abysmal salary as day one.

Will this be the year she refuses to leave Patrick’s office without compensation? Director Véronique Jadin and co-writer Nina Vanspranghe appear to give Inès help by bringing corporate’s Anna Nilsson (Laurence Bibot) in to talk about the parent company’s equal pay initiative. Her graphs show that EcoClean Pro is the worst culprit under the umbrella, their line a consistent horizontal at the bottom while all the others shoot up above it. Unfortunately, however, this little meeting is less about demanding change than it is satisfying legal imperatives. Anna chuckles right along with Patrick and the other men when misogynistic jokes get bandied about. She’s already “one of the boys” making a comfortable fee at the expense of Inès and others like her. Why rock that boat?

While L’employée du mois [Employee of the Month] might start slow as it sets this stylistically heightened (yet completely believable) premise, it doesn’t take long for the chaos to reign supreme. Melody has a front row seat just like us. She’s here because she needs the credit to graduate and her mother, who used to work in the office many moons ago, got Patrick to do her a favor. So, she sits at her desk and slowly shreds those papers, wide-eyed and shocked by the language and attitude this otherwise all-male office uses to exploit Inès’ non-confrontational demeanor into performing all the “domestic” tasks they won’t. When one of the men goes too far (unzipping his pants to give Inès her “bonus”), Melody can no longer simply watch.

The result is a dead body. Just because this murder is an objectively freakish accident, however, doesn’t mean the women can call the police without worrying about how everything might look from the outside. Inès not only has seventeen years of motive, but her fingerprints are also all over the crime scene since she’s been so hard-wired as a “company man” that her first instinct is to clean everything up. Melody isn’t entirely innocent insofar as complicity is concerned, so she must decide whether to help cover for her or risk jail time herself. Luckily, they have all the supplies necessary to remove blood from rugs, glass, and plaster without too much effort. Add a serendipitous acid bath in the basement warehouse and it’s a one-stop evidence-removal shop.

What nobody could anticipate is how calm and collected Inès proves in the aftermath. She’s emboldened by the event. She feels alive and confident for the first time in years. The worst thing anyone can do then is dare to get in her way or continue their dehumanizingly chauvinistic rhetoric when in her company. Because, as they say, the first kill is the hardest. Once you cross that line, what’s to stop you from wreaking revenge all over that office. Inès has broken the release valve off and transformed herself into a criminal mastermind who Melody is smart to fear just in case she turns on her too. Another body falls. Then another. It starts being so effortless that talk of expanding outside the company payroll becomes inevitable.

Is the whole a one-note gag? Sure, you could say that. The bodies fall in a very methodical sequence tempered by ever loosening morals on behalf of Inès moving from damage control to controlled rage, but it’s highly entertaining. The reason is simple: Jadin is satirizing the patriarchy so thoroughly that the same issues that make Inès want to burn everything down become the same issues that might save her. Just as the men at EcoClean Pro dismiss her as their office housewife, so too will men in authority outside those walls (Philippe Résimont‘s police inspector) underestimate her. By leaning into the stereotype that these men project upon her, Inès can position herself to “accidentally” wipe out her enemies while also insulating herself from being deemed a suspect.

It’s not foolproof, though. The more blood spilled, the easier it is for Melody to shift from accomplice status to that of active assailant. The more time passes without someone answering to an audit performed by a very pregnant financial inspector (Ingrid Heiderscheidt‘s Van Duyne), the greater the chance that she pokes her head where a man in her position might not. Throw in the cash windfall everyone but Inès was supposed to receive that’s hidden somewhere in the office—the reason an audit commenced—and there ends up being a lot going on in a very limited runtime (seventy-eight minutes). Can these two women prove careful enough to both kill and remove the bodies before the wrong person notices and/or can’t be killed in his/her own right?

That’s the question that propels the narrative forward—one that I personally didn’t care about whether the answer would be a “Yes” or “No.” If the comedy of errors stayed consistent and Inès kept growing more and more assertive (to the point where a co-worker eventually remarks that her becoming a “feminist” means the “good old days” are truly over), I was on-board for whatever antics Jadin had up her sleeve. Some bits may seem convenient as far as providing these women everything they need exactly when they need it (sometimes backhandedly so), but why not let karma reach out a helpful hand? The men in Inès’ soft-spoken crosshairs have operated in “easy mode” their whole lives. It’s time the tables were finally turned for some much-needed retribution.


photography:
[1] © Cedric Bourgeois
courtesy of the Fantasia International Film Festival

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.