EmptyPARIS -- The question behind Nicolas Klotz's wordy, unwieldy, stylish and absorbing feature "Heartbeat Detector" is simply this: Is your boss a fascist? As an idea-driven political thriller, the movie is a natural for the art house and festival circuits. Mainstream audiences are likely to find its leisurely pace and mixture of styles -- ranging from documentary to poetic-literary -- heavy going.
Simon Kessler (Mathieu Amalric) is the in-house psychologist for Franco-German petrochemicals giant SC Farb (the name is chosen to remind us of IG Farben). He is charged with smoothing out wrinkles in the work force and, when asked to, providing a rationale for shrinking the payroll by hundreds of "units," as the workers are called in technospeak.
Until now, Kessler has worked clinically and efficiently as the company trouble-shooter. His moment of truth arrives when the sinister managing director, Karl Rose (Jean-Pierre Kalfon), asks him to investigate CEO Mathias Just (Michael Lonsdale) who, he says, has been behaving erratically of late.
As a cover, Kessler pretends to create a company orchestra and visits Just, who Kessler knows played cello many years before. Just, who is indeed having qualms about company practices, lets Kessler know that he knows that Rose is scheming to have him removed. Meanwhile, Kessler (who is unmarried) is beginning to feel the strain mentally and bodily. Then he receives anonymous letters providing gruesome details of SC Farb's murky past as a supplier of services to the Nazis, notably its helping hand in the Final Solution.
The core of this ambitious movie, scripted by Elisabeth Perceval from a novel by Francois Emmanuel, is the notion that there are continuities between the inhumane procedures used by the Nazis in the name of efficient racial purging and the dehumanizing methods used by modern capitalism in the pursuit of ever-increasing profits.
Klotz's objective, largely achieved, is to update Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" to the age of IT, enterprise systems and globalization, a nightmare world in which human relations have been stripped to bare essentials.
Shot mostly in interiors and mostly, it appears, at night, the movie is visually striking, its color range reduced to a palette of blue and black. The sound is deliberately muffled, the dialogue spoken in low tones, as if in fear of being overheard. Music also plays a key role as a humanizing factor, as much for Just, who favors Schubert, as for Kessler, who dances off his tensions at a rave or listens -- in an unbroken, wordless seven-minute sequence -- to the aching beauties of flamenco-singing and Portuguese fado.
The movie is, arguably, too long and overladen with ideas. Klotz and Perceval are particularly keen on nailing the use and abuse of language in formatting human behavior. Both the plot and the love interest, provided by Kessler's colleague-girlfriend Isabelle (Delphine Chuillot), are perfunctory.
Sophie Dulac Prods.
Director: Nicolas Klotz
Screenwriter: Elisabeth Perceval
Producers: Sophie Dulac, Michel Zana
Director of photography: Josee Deshaies
Production designer: Antoine Platteau
Music: Syd Matters
Costume designer: Dorothee Guiraud
Editor: Rose-Marie Lausson
Simon Kessler: Mathieu Amalric
Mathias Just: Michael Lonsdale
Karl Rose: Jean-Pierre Kalfon
Arie Neuman: Lou Castel
Lucy Just: Edith Scob
Isabelle: Delphine Chuillot
Louisa: Laetitia Spigarelli
Jacques Paolini: Remy Carpentier
Lynn Sanderson: Valerie Dreville
Running time -- 144 minutes
No MPAA rating