‘The Boss’s Daughter’ (‘La Fille du patron’): Film Review

Courtesy of Wild Bunch
A heartfelt romance that never delves deep enough.

Christa Theret (‘Renoir’) stars as the heroine of actor Olivier Lousteau’s feature debut.

A touching if somewhat schematic tale of love, labor and contact sports, The Boss’s Daughter (La Fille du patron) marks a moderately convincing feature helming debut from French actor Olivier Lousteau, who previously held roles in films by Palme d’Or laureate Abdellatif Kechiche.

Very much like a lightweight Ken Loach, the writer-director offers up a working-class romance between the titular beauty (Christa Theret) and a 40-year-old factory worker (played by Lousteau himself) who decides he wants more out of life than just a paycheck and a stale marriage. Sincere in its emotions but lacking in originality and intensity, this Wild Bunch release could find its way to foreign audiences interested in a familiar, albeit well-performed, story of unfettered blue-collar passion.

The swarthy Vital — talk about a loaded name — is the shop steward of a rural textile manufacture, leading his men during working hours and coaching them through weekend rugby matches, where their company team is on its way to the national finals. But his seemingly stable existence hits a snag when he encounters the lovely young Alix, who’s been sent in by her father (Patrick Descamps) to conduct ergonomic studies among the hardworking staff of his flailing business.

Soon enough, and after a few clues that Vital’s marriage is far from rosy, he and Alix strike up a relationship that quickly turns physical. Beyond pure carnal attraction, it’s not really clear what brings these two together, though it’s obvious that in Vital’s case the young woman represents something fresh and new in his routine life. Yet things take a darker turn when the affair goes public and everyone at the factory turns against the two, leaving them to decide if they’re to stick together or let the fling remain a fling.

Lousteau does a good job channeling the burgeoning desire between the worker and the young woman, especially in a scene where the couple intimately dances in front of all the other employees. There’s a go-for-broke attitude about their connection that feels both realistic and refreshing, even if nobody seems to be thinking about the consequences of their actions. (Some viewers may take issue with the fact that Vital hardly seems to consider his wife and own young daughter while all this is going on.)

But as much as Lousteau and the excellent Theret (Renoir, Marguerite) give their lovebirds a desirable air, the film never delves deeply into either of their psyches, to the point that their closing scenes together lack the necessary staying power. Meanwhile, events involving the mill — which is forced to step up production to compete with other firms — feel telegraphed, even if the camaraderie between Vital and his fellow laborers/teammates can be heartwarming in a Loachian way.

Directing in a loose and laid-back fashion, with director of photography Crystel Fournier (Girlhood) providing a warm visual palette, Lousteau avoids some of the more despairing clichés of French proletarian dramas. The rapport between boss and employee are depicted in a tender manner (Alix’s dad is said to be a former worker himself), while life on the factory floor is altogether pleasant save for one freak accident. Yet the film ultimately remains on the surface of both its characters and issues; like the final, grueling rugby match, it’s something we watch from a safe distance but can never quite invest in.

Production company: Rouge International, Bethasbee Mucho
Cast: Christa Theret, Olivier Lousteau, Florence Thomassin, Patrick Descamps, Stephane Rideau
Director: Olivier Lousteau
Screenwriters: Olivier Lousteau, Berenice Andre, Agnes Caffin
Producers: Julie Gayet, Nadia Turincev, Lisa Azuelos, Julien Madon
Director of photography: Crystel Fournier
Production designer: Helena Cisterne
Editor: Camille Toubkis
Composer: Fixi
Casting directors: Monya Galbi, Aurelie Guichard
Artistic direction: Virginie Montel
Sales agent: Wild Bunch

In French
Not rated, 98 minutes