Belgian director Veronique Jadin’s Employee of the Month (L’employée du mois) reveals how hostile a workplace can get when people, particularly women, are ignored and taken for granted. Co-written with Nina Vanspranghe, the film strikes a perfect balance in tone as the comedy grows increasingly darker, and shows not much has changed for women since its thematic predecessor Colin Higgins’s 9 to 5 even though they are set in different countries over four decades apart.
EcoCleanPro is a cleaning-supply company. Ines (Jasmina Douieb) works at a branch as its in-house legal expert, but being the only woman in office, all the men, from the manager Patrick (Peter Van den Begin) to the warehouse worker, treat her like their secretary. They expect her to handle menial tasks, like replacing their toilet paper, and their crude remarks.
This is the first day on the job for accounting intern Melody (Laetitia Mampaka), whose mother used to work in this office. Patrick gives her a menial task of shredding documents and is told not to read them. She mindlessly passes the time, indifferent to Ines’s suggestion to be more efficient at the task.
After seeing the other men rewarded annually while she never received a raise in 17 years and learning about the company policy regarding gender equity pay, Ines attempts to stand up for herself. Patrick, who previously had a brief affair with Ines, thinks all he needs to is offer her what’s in his pants. She physically rebuffs him while Melody attempts to interrupt by entering Patrick’s office. Their combined response has dire consequences for Patrick, the extent of which they work to keep from the rest of the staff.
Further complicating matters, Inspectrice Van Duyne (Ingrid Heiderscheidt), someone similar to an IRS agent in the United States, makes a surprise visit to meet with Patrick and investigate the company’s financial records. She finds matters suspicious on a few fronts, especially when a murdered body is discovered. However, when her male superior comes on the scene, Inspecteur Boss (Philippe Résimont, who wonderfully oozes smarminess) reveals male condescension is not limited to the private sector.
Because of their differences, Ines and Melody make an unlikely team and their decisions, made together and individually, to get out of trouble only seem to increase them. Those decisions may turn some viewers off as they are quite drastic, yet it’s easy to root for the ladies because of the performances by and chemisty between Douieb and Mampaka, and also because of the rude, disrespectful characters they encounter.