Little Nothings (Cert 15)
1 Disc Blu-ray (Distributor: Arrow Academy) Running Time: 97 minutes approx.
There is no “I” in “team” so they say. This is true but not everybody is a team player for many reasons – some are intimidated being around other people, personality clashes are always a destructive element, and then there are those who simply aren’t interested. Can we ever just get along for the greater good?
Department store Grandes Galeries is soon to celebrate its centenary but over the past few years its fortunes have been sliding, the staff are uninspired, sales are down and its public profile is lacking. A Japanese company wishes to buy the building to turn it into a hotel but the shareholders are reluctant to sell, so they hire Lepetit (Fabrice Luchini) as general manager, giving him a year to turn things around.
Implementing a number of new ideas and practices, Lepetit aims to galvanise the staff old and new into coming together, promoting a united front for the betterment of the Grandes Galeries name and its prosperity. Unfortunately, not everyone will play along despite the improvements achieved, with personal issues threatening to derail Lepetit’s plans.
For his debut feature, Cédric Klapisch casts a wry eye over the workplace dynamic of disparate people brought together and how their individual personalities tell a different story despite everyone being in the same team. Little Nothings (Riens du tout) may be almost thirty years old but its observations remain wholly, perhaps alarmingly, relevant in their veracity.
Klapisch’s main objective was to highlight the sort of Jekyll and Hyde dichotomy inside all of us that is brought out in the workplace, where lone wolves and ebullient go getters can be found aiming for the same goal, with different levels of enthusiasm. Despite the setting being a busy Parisian high street, the resonance is universal and even if you’ve never worked in a shop, you’ll recognise the struggles from your own place of work.
Lepetit look like a mild-mannered pen pusher but he is a man of ideas and vision, and has a quiet charisma about him to ensure everyone is on board, though he is aware it will take some time. His primary concern is fostering a sense of team building and unity so everyone know everybody else making it easier to pull together and reap the rewards of their success. What could possibly go wrong?
His ideas include a mass bungee jump session, group therapy, and entrance into the Paris marathon under the store’s name for maximum publicity and exposure. The one thing that wasn’t Lepetit’s idea but was something he encouraged was the company choir. The irony is that after all Lepetit’s efforts to instil a group mentality in everyone, the song they chose to sing is entitled Moi, je suis moi or I Am Me, with the central refrain of “Me, me, me”!
Since this is a typical workplace represented here, the usual suspects are found within – uptight Martin (Daniel Berlioux), depressed Domrémy (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), dyspeptic Lefèvre (Olivier Broche), slacker Roger (Pierre-Olivier Mornas), perky Claire (Nathalie Richard), prissy Veronique (Coraly Zahonero), gossip Isabelle (Karin Viard) and alpha male security guard Hubert (Jean-Michel Martial) to name but a few.
None of the characters are as tropey as they sound; instead, they are well observed and each actor has been given leeway to bring a nuance to them that allows some flexibility in how they relate to others whilst sticking to their own agendas. Roger, for example, admits he needs the money but doesn’t see this as a long term position, so he is given a role that sees him go where needed, thus he spends moe time flirting with Claire and canteen girl Zaza (Marie Riva) than on his work.
You also have the older workers who resist change and make all the right noises in front of the bosses but speak their mind the moment their backs have turned. One woman is a few months away from retirement and refuses to take training for the new upgrades which ahs disastrous consequences. I’m sure we’ve all known someone like that. Others try their bet to integrate but end up alone from trying too hard, then there is Veronique so is so efficient and good at her job she becomes a target of jealousy.
Just like a busy department store where a hundred things are happening at once and just as many bodies are moving about under one roof, our focus is everywhere with distractions coming from all corners. Dominique Colin’s camera reflects this via some great shots through barely staying still when surveying the shop layout, zipping about from one scene to the next in a single take, usually from a safe distance but close enough to recreate the frenetic bustle of this situation.
With an ensemble cast who all bring something unique to the various characters and the complexities of their persona both in and out of the store environment, it is Fabrice Luchini who is the glue of the whole film, never emoting beyond being calm yet pragmatic as Lepetit. His understated passion and grounded sense of reality makes him such a wonderful anchor for the motley crew that is his staff flailing around him, and boy do they flail.
Amazingly for a film that is a satire on corporate management and the public façade of the shop worker, this is not as biting and incisive as it could have been. Certain mocked aspects are bang on target whilst other are handled very subtly, maybe to disguise for some people that they are being lampooned. The humour is again to be found more in the environment and the depictions of the cast than any contrived action, thus the tone remains quite light.
Klapisch was 29 when made Little Nothings but this doesn’t feel like a debutante’s work. His eye for shot composition and accessible narrative is that of a seasoned veteran whilst its inherent cheekiness and intelligence makes it a breezy, charming watch, long overdue a present day re-evaluation.
Original Uncompressed French Mono Soundtrack
A Lesson In Cinema by Cédric Klapisch and Jackie Berroyer
What Moves Me
First Pressing Only:
Illustrated Collector’s Booklet
Rating – ***
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