La Syndicaliste Blu-ray Review: The Woman Who Maybe Cried Wolf

Director Jean-Paul Salomé and star Isabelle Huppert team up again in this fascinating drama that is not at all what it appears to be at first. Huppert plays a top union representative operating as the spokesperson for thousands of workers at a nuclear energy company. When she learns that her company appears to be getting into shady business with Chinese interests, she works to expose and shut down the association before union jobs are jeopardized.

Buy La Syndicaliste Blu-ray

Sounds like a simple enough story of one plucky crusader standing up to big business, like Norma Rae or Erin Brokovich, but then it morphs into something else entirely. As a result of her meddling, Maureen Kearney (Huppert) begins receiving anonymous threats that eventually escalate into a home invasion and sexual assault. At least that’s what Kearney wants us to believe. With a suspicious lack of evidence and a shaky timeline, the police quickly begin to spin a narrative that Kearney made up the whole assault in order to curry public favor for her union cause, an idea granted full credence when she confesses it was all a hoax. Or was it?

Salomé toys with audience loyalty by setting up Kearney as an unreliable protagonist, forcing viewers to try to decide for themselves if Kearney is a fraud or a victim. There’s no easy answer for quite a while, making for some intense scenes designed to make viewers question their bias no matter which side they choose. Did she cry wolf? Is she simply protecting her family from further turmoil?

The primary victim of this shift in direction is the original story of corporate malfeasance, as the entire nuclear energy story is put on the back burner for most of the middle and final acts. Considering the sizable setup granted this worthwhile story and web of characters in the early scenes, it’s a disservice to the initial premise that is never satisfactorily explored, summarily dispatched with scant epilogue text. I understand that Kearney is the principal story, but her role in something bigger is woefully cast to the side.

Salomé and Huppert previously worked together on Mama Weed (2020), a lively look at a police translator lured by a life of crime, with shades of Breaking Bad and Weeds. That recent collaboration grants them an easy familiarity here, resulting in an assured narrative anchored by Huppert’s total commitment to her role. Huppert’s typical ice queen performance is the perfect choice for her steely union rep character, but she lets the mask slip here, exposing some cracks in her tough exterior as Kearney moves through the trauma of personal threats and actual aggression, as well as the fallout of her false confession. 

The film is presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio, an oddly epic format for a fairly insular tale, but one that cinematographer Julien Hirsch puts to good use with dynamic camerawork and shot composition. Audio options are DTS 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo, in French with optional English subtitles.

The Blu-ray bonus features are surprisingly substantial: a 15-minute interview with the real Maureen Kearney and a half-hour interview with Salomé. They both offer valuable insight about the aftermath of Kearney’s real-life experience, how the project came together, and its reception. A theatrical trailer is also included.

Although the plot isn’t what it seems at first, Salomé’s measured direction and Huppert’s fully engaged performance combine for a mesmerizing examination of victim blaming and its repercussions.

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Steve Geise

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