Cantet has wisely centered his story on the father-son relationship. While there are some terrific supporting characters (especially Danielle Melador‘s turn as Mrs. Arnoux, a tough-talking, cigarette-wielding union rep), the crux of the film’s unapologetically leftist political essay lies in the conflict between the two men. As Frank grows more militant, staging strikes and protests, his father feels both betrayed and furious. The irony is rich: The old man has sacrificed much so that his boy can have a better life and grow to be a powerful man. But when Frank eschews that status-quo definition of success and works to improve the lives of others, it‘s an affront to his father’s dreams.
Aside from Lespert and the other major actors, Human Resources was cast with nonprofessionals, all plucked from unemployment lines and selected because their real-life jobs matched those of their characters. You‘d never know it: There’s an unassailable integrity to the performances. The film builds slowly to a heart-piercing showdown between father and son on the factory floor, with Frank blasting his father for infecting him with shame about who he is and where he comes from. ”You gave me your shame,“ he shouts tearfully, ”and I will have it inside me all my life.“ The devastation that plays across the father‘s face is almost too much to bear, and stands as one of the most stinging political statements you’re likely to see in film this year.