'Discount': Film Review

Discount Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Wild Bunch Distribution

Discount Still - H 2015

A low-cost, high-concept social dramedy

Writer-director Louis-Julien Petit sets his debut feature in a discount supermarket.

While France is often seen from abroad as a bastion of homegrown products and mom-and-pop épiceries, the reality throughout large swaths of the country is something else entirely. Gone are lots of the small bakeries and cheese shops that fill tourist guidebooks or Hollywood movie sets, replaced by gimungous box stores like Carrefour and Leclerc (the local equivalent of Walmart and Target), or else by dreary, no-frills supermarkets classified under the offputtingly erotic term “hard-discount.”

Such is the setting for writer-director Louis-Julien Petit’s feature debut, which sees the exploited workers of one such establishment taking matters into their own hands in ways both amusing and highly illegal. It’s a far-fetched if acceptable premise in a movie that’s more social drama than ensemble comedy, even if a strong cast works together to provide moments of fun amid the hopeless surroundings. Opening numbers for a late-January release have been promising, while the film’s portrait of modern-day Gallic living could attract some interest overseas.

In a gloomy northern suburb where the sun never shines and everyone wears a perpetual frown, one of the only major employers in the area seems to be Discount, a medium-sized, low-cost market that attracts crowds of working-class shoppers every morning. Managed with an iron first by the stressed, perpetually single Sofia (Zabou Breitman), the cashiers Gilles (Olivier Barthelemy), Christiane (Corinne Masiero), Emma (Sarah Suco) and Alfred (Pascal Demolon) fight to keep their jobs despite the constant threat of layoffs and the store’s draconian rules regarding customer service and bathroom breaks, which are timed with a stopwatch.

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When Sofia is forced by her own horrible bosses to start issuing pink slips, Gilles convinces his fellow employees to fight back in a completely unexpected manner: stealing boxes of product from Discount and reselling them for even less in a makeshift shop that they open in Christiane’s garage. Their first tag sale attracts tons of customers and turns out to be a major success, even if it seems impossible that they net almost $6,000 from a few shelves filled with rice, flour and hand soap.

The script — co-written by Petit and Samuel Doux — tries to keep things credible despite a concept that’s hard to believe at times, focusing on a desperate group of individuals whose private lives are gradually revealed as the plot thickens. Each of them, from the thuggish Gilles to the defensive Christiane to the fragile Emma, has a backstory that helps explain how they wound up stuck behind the cash register, although Discount also hints at the fact that there are precious few alternatives available.

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Recalling lighthearted works of Ken Loach like The Angel’s Share and The Navigators, yet not quite exploiting its comic moments to the fullest, the film heads to darker places in the third act and to a politicized finale that’s a veritable cri de coeur — against the sorry state of French employment and contemporary capitalism in general — which presses for solidarity but doesn’t fully round out the narrative.

Even if Petit seems to prefer the message to the medium here, the former assistant director (on movies like Hotel Normandy and The Finishers) offers up a visual style that sets Discount apart from your typical Gallic comedy, with DP David Chambille (My Friend Victoria) gliding his camera up and down the supermarket aisles, or pulling in and out of focus, to find hints of beauty in a place designed to be a major eyesore. It’s a technique that adds something special to an otherwise unexceptional setting, in a film that comes across as anything but cheap.

Production companies: Elemiah, Orange Studio, France 3 Cinema, Pictanova
Cast: Olivier Barthelemy, Corinne Masiero, Pascal Demolon, Sarah Suco, M’Barek Belkouk
Director: Louis-Julien Petit
Screenwriters: Louis-Julien Petit, Samuel Doux, based on an original idea by Louis-Julien Petit
Producers: Liza Benguigui, Philippe Dupuis-Mendel
Director of photography: David Chambille
Production designer: Cecile Deleu
Costume designers: Elise Bouquet, Reem Kuzayli
Editor: Antoine Vareille
Composer: Chkrrr
Casting directors: David Bertrand, Arda
Sales: Other Angle Pictures

No rating, 105 minutes