A family factory sold to a vulture fund, a redundancy plan to “dress the bride”, a work accident due to lack of maintenance of the machines, workers who worry about their future in an already disaster-stricken valley… The scenario of Takeover seems a priori unoriginal. Since the 1980s, deindustrialization has in fact given rise to countless films, more or less successful, but generally ending tragically. A specialist in social documentaries, Gilles Perret could have given us a new episode of these working-class tragedies that he knows well. For his first fiction, on the contrary, he chose an original angle: that of a victory for workers against finance, by unusual means.
Takeover first tells the story of a fight that seemed lost in advance. And for good reason. Takeovers of factories, relocations and social plans, the Savoyard region of the Arve valley has suffered in series over the past few decades. Fiction feeds here on a reality that Gilles Perret knows too well.
The local challenges of a global struggle
The director indeed stages the region where he is from and where he still lives, as well as his industrial specialty: precision mechanics, or turning. He had already made it the subject of the documentary My globalization, in 2006, through the example of Yves Bontaz, head of a bar turning factory in the Arve valley. This film already recounted the mechanisms of globalized finance: acquired by Anglo-Saxon pension funds, most of the companies in the valley were gradually forced to relocate their production, in particular to China. Some scenes showed these little bosses caught in a gear and ending up wondering, in a fit of lucidity, if they hadn’t been overtaken by a model they had endorsed for too long.
Fifteen years later, it is now the challenge of the relocation of industrial activity that is posed by this film, which was also shot in the Bontaz factory, now run by the son of Yves Bontaz, Christophe, who accepted without hesitation the proposal of his former classmate from high school in Cluses. Beyond the political disagreements that may exist between the two men, this anecdote illustrates the solidarity at work in the valley, and reinforces the realistic dimension that this fiction takes on: from the employees hired as extras to the precision machines, passing by the B de Bontaz T-shirts, everything rings true and is enriched by the director’s experience in the documentary genre.
The references to local roots, to “the valley”, to the terroir and to the landscapes highlighted in many sequences of the film, also echo the projection of employees over the long term, in opposition to the obligations of short-term profitability. investor termist. And then there is this mountain, which Cédric (played by Pierre Deladonchamps) tries to climb throughout the film, despite an ever more threatening sky, and which serves as an allegory for the fight he has to lead, below, in the valley.
When workers raise their heads
In his novel Ninety-three, Victor Hugo compares the Convention, the assembly of the French Revolution, to the Himalayas. The metaphor of climbing the Savoyard mountain is no less convincing in qualifying the takeover of the Berthier factory, as the efforts of the workers to reassert their sovereignty over their working tool will have to be numerous.
The question of sovereignty at work, on which the title insists, recalls here the theses of Bernard Friot.
One of the main springs of the film is thus based on a heroization of the producer, who ceases to be the victim of an operating system – the daily life evoked in the film through an accident at work or an unfair dismissal – to become sovereign over his work, over his production. The question of sovereignty at work, on which the title insists, recalls here the theses of the economist and sociologist Bernard Friot. Close to Gilles Perret, this one intervenes in particular in the documentary film The Social released in 2016, on the history of Social Security and the role that Ambroise Croizat played in it. Theoretician of “salary to personal qualification”, Bernard Friot wrote a book with an evocative title: Emancipate work. The refusal to play the job market game through redundancies, the customary ownership of the company by the workers themselves or even more specifically the salary scale of 1 to 3 proposed by Cédric are all echoes of the works of Bernard Friot, which are expressed, at least in part, through this fiction.
In this respect, the highlighting of the cooperative system deserves another comment. For Jaurès, the cooperative organization is indeed the tool allowing workers to no longer be serfs in the economic order, but kings in the workshop, as well as in the city with universal suffrage. Although conversions of companies into workers’ cooperatives of production (SCOP) are frequent, for lack of buyers, there is to our knowledge no example of such a “recovery in hand” in a context of competition with a buyer. If this may appear to be a limit to the film’s plausibility, Cédric’s ingenuity in saving his job and that of his comrades illustrates at the same time generational differences in the relationship to trade unionism, between a retired father and nostalgic for the past role unions, and son disillusioned with traditional union action. This divide, well documented by sociologists, illustrates the transformation of frameworks for collective action at work. If the son does not believe in strikes and unions, he mobilizes in another way, less defensive and more oriented towards victory.
Take the financiers at their own game
Having neither the experience nor the confidence in the success of an “old-fashioned” strike struggle, the employees of Berthier felt helpless when they learned of the sale of the company. But an impromptu meeting between Cédric and a Swiss financier, during a climbing session, will allow him to understand the small games of investment funds. Rather than providing the amount needed to buy the business directly, the funds in question provide only a small share, supplementing the rest with bank loans.
To counter this scam, Cédric decides to set up his own fund with two friends from the valley to buy Berthier in an LBO. But the task is difficult: where to find the starting millions? How to convince banks when you have no experience?
To repay its creditors, the company must then make a lot of profits, usually by sacrificing jobs, benefits and investment. If the employees bear the brunt of this pressure at maximum profitability, the shareholders will be able to sell the company after a few years with a very nice profit. A golden operation: the firm has in fact bought itself out!
To counter this scam, Cédric decides to set up his own fund with two friends from the valley to buy Berthier in an LBO. But the task is difficult: where to find the starting millions? How to convince banks when you have no experience? Despite the ups and downs, their fund, called DreamFinance, will eventually have its place at the negotiating table. A company manager, the boss’s right arm, will join them out of attachment to her valley. She who criticized “the mussels clinging to their rock” ends up remembering her family history and decides to sabotage the negotiations with the other funds. Finally, and despite a last-minute betrayal, the small team will end up buying Berthier and transforming it into a SCOP.
By having financiers say that they “cannot afford to work for the love of humanity”, or even that “business is not friendly », the director exposes the power of the psychic mechanisms which drown these characters in the icy waters of selfish calculation.
By slipping a few notions of finance into a film for the general public, Gilles Perret thus succeeds in making the viewer aware of the trickery of financial games where the “capital contributors” are not even really involved. These scenes are also an opportunity to make fun of the inhumanity on which such a system feeds. By having financiers say that they “cannot afford to work for the love of humanity”, or even that “business is not friendly », the director exposes the power of the psychic mechanisms which drown these characters in the icy waters of selfish calculation, with the dose of cynicism and Franglais characteristic of these business circles.
The latter are all the more exposed as their ignorance of the company will be fatal to them: while the bankers made fun of DreamFinance when our three accomplices announced their intention to preserve employment and modernize the machines, the sudden end of the “excellent social climate” of Berthier will get the better of their offers. Finally, Gilles Perret also offers his characters a nice revenge on an heiress, daughter of the historic manager of Berthier who sold off the company to pocket his jackpot, who finds herself very embarrassed by her investments in tax havens.
With TakeoverGilles Perret therefore offers an optimistic sequel to My globalization, fifteen years later. If we would still have preferred that he did not need to go through fiction to tell us this beautiful story, we can all the same rejoice that it arouses, among many, the hope of a world of work freed from vultures and taken over… by the workers themselves. What should inspire future social struggles?
Takeover, in theaters October 19. A film by Gilles Perret and Marion Richoux. With Pierre Deladonchamps, Lætitia Dosch, Grégory Montel, Finnegan Oldfield and Vincent Deniard.