The Sitting Duck – movie review

The Sitting Duck (La Syndicaliste) is a political thriller based in fact. Director Jean-Paul Salome and co-screenwriter Fadette Drouard craft their story around a trade union official and whistleblower who wasn’t believed after a violent personal attack.

The central figure is Maureen Kearney (Isabelle Huppert). In 2012, she worked for a Areva, a French multinational specialising in nuclear power. A change of leadership at the firm ahead of the 2012 French election brought extra pressure on Kearney. She vowed to stay on and was duly elected to represent Areva’s then-50,000 workers for a sixth term. But she didn’t trust the new Areva head Luc Oursel (Yvan Attal).

Vindication of her suspicions came quickly when she was presented with a damning document that pointed to Areva selling out to the Chinese. Tens of thousands of jobs were on the line. But when Kearney tried to raise the matter with political heavyweights, her overtures were not welcomed. Oursel, too, made it clear that she should back off, while she was repeatedly threatened and intimidated.

And then came a brutal attack in December 2012, in which (among other depravities) the letter A was cut into her stomach. In a shocking turn of events, the upshot was that with no evidence, no witnesses and no DNA, she went from being a victim to a suspect. Her personal history was trawled over and she took hit after hit. Nevetheless, over the ensuing six years, with her husband Gilles Hugo (Gregory Gadebois) behind her, she fought an often-difficult campaign for justice.

Kearny’s was a most unusual case and ripe to be made into a movie. Watching events unfold, I was incredulous. Salome and Drouard adapted The Sitting Duck from a 2019 book of the same name by investigative journalist Caroline Michel-Augirre.  The film concerns power and control; powered by skulduggery, misogyny and sexual assault.

Isabelle Huppert is a standout as Kearney, a woman of fierce determination and vulnerability. We learn more about the latter as the movie progresses. Suffice to say that Huppert carries herself with dignity and poise. Gadebois brings stoicism, warmth and good humour to his representation of Kearney’s husband. Mara Taquin plays Kearney’s demonstrative and argumentative daughter Fiona. The characters often don’t see eye to eye, but they clearly care about each other. Yvan Attal is fiery as the Areva boss. Pierre Deladonchamps portrays the policeman heading up the investigation as a man copping pressure from his higher ups.

The script follows many threads, and the movie requires concentration to take it all in. However, if you do it provides payoff and satisfaction. I appreciated the twists. I was gripped and wanted to find out more. What was being revealed had impact. I felt my outrage grow. The fact that it is drawn from reality gives it extra bite.

Alex First

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