There are a lot of interesting things going on in French director Rebecca Zlotowski's sophomore feature. Foremost among them is the unusual setting for what appears to be a story of men who do the dirty jobs noone else does, influenced by classic American filmmaking of rowdy masculine heroics - a nuclear power station somewhere in France. Newcomer Gary (Tahar Rahim) isn't learned enough to do anything other than grunt cleanup work - the most dangerous occupation in the whole premises - and finds himself practically parachuted into a tight-knit community of hard-drinking, hard-living working-class men who live in a nearby trailer park under the shadow of radiation sickness.

     There are, of course, women as well here - and from the start Gary has only eyes for Karole (Léa Seydoux), the bride-to-be of one of his workmates, the burly Toni (Denis Ménochet). Whether Gary's growingly feverish obsession with Karole comes from the pressure-cooker atmosphere he finds himself in or from something else in his past is never properly explained by Ms. Zlotowski, who makes a point of withholding as much information as she can about every character's past as well as of underlining the ominous mood surrounding them - a sense of impending doom that may come from nowhere at any given moment.

     Despite that, though, and despite the underplayed social commentary (these workers are in many ways the lowest-possible rung in the station's hierarchical food chain), there's a sense that the director sets everything in its proper place but never really knows where she wants to take it, piling pressure upon pressure upon its characters until a surprisingly non-committal ending suggests they're caught in traps (not only) of their own making. Though everyone in the film is uneasy about settling for what they're given and yearn for something else, that seems precisely to be what Ms. Zlotowski does by settling in Grand Central for a well-known mode of French restrained psychological drama when the clues and the premises were there for something other, visible in the excellent ensemble performances of the cast (with a special shoutout to the always excellent Olivier Gourmet, whose veteran Gilles is the moral and narrative centrepiece of the story).

Cast: Tahar Rahim, Léa Seydoux, Olivier Gourmet, Denis Ménochet, Johan Libéreau
Director: Rebecca Zlotowski
Screenwriters: Gaëlle Macé, Ms. Zlotowski, from a story by Ms. Macé
Cinematography: Georges Lechaptois (colour)
Music: Rob
Designer: Antoine Platteau
Costumes: Chattoune
Editor: Julien Lacheray
Producer: Frédéric Jouve (Les Films Velvet in co-production with France 3 Cinéma, Rhône-Alpes Cinéma and KGP Kranzelbinder Gabriele Produktion) 
France/Austria, 2013, 94 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Cinema City Alvalade 2, Lisbon, October 10th 2013


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