Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Stakhanovite zeal or Bartleby despair?

I was reading this review of Laurent Cantet's Time Out by Dennis Lim and found this interesting comment:

You are what you do. The phrase can evoke either Stakhanovite zeal or Bartleby despair.

I, of course, like a lot of other people fall in the later category. (I hope my employers don't read this blog!!) These attitudes have also become far more subtle in our corporatised contemporary culture than what they were in Soviet Union or in Herman Melville's time.

Anyway, the context being that Laurent Cantet's latest film The Class ("Entre Les Murs") won the Golden Palm at this years Cannes film festival. I have seen two of his earlier films and really liked both of them, specially his debut Human Resources. A young business graduate who has specialised in "human resources" comes to work as an intern in a factory - the same factory where his father has worked in his blue-collar job with Stakhanovite zeal all his life - and finds himself involved in the bitter struggle between labour and the management. The film ends with him becoming more aware of his class consciousness and is able to see the real human side of the "case studies" he learnt in his business studies. It is really an amazing and extremely powerful film. It will be a perfect double bill with Fassbinder's Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven, another one of my favourite films which deals with the same subject. Kean Loach's recent Bread and Roses was quite good too. (This reminds me - I need to find a to-see list of films dealing with the subject of working class and labour union dramas.)

His Time Out is pretty excellent too though its diagnosis felt a little incomplete and hesitant to me as compared to Human Resources. It is nevertheless a chilling account of a senior executive in a financial company who was laid off from his job but who invents a fictional job for himself as a consultant for some fancy United Nations firm in Geneva advising on the "emerging markets" in Africa. The whole film is about how he invents one lie after another just to keep up with the appearances till it "times out". It masterfully captures the idea of how inextricably our jobs have become linked with our identities and what it means as we enter into a world which is becoming more and more unstable and precarious financially.


Madhuri said...

I too belong to the later group - and unfortunately, employers are always looking for the former so that they can unburden all their responsibilities. But a grand quote this. I think I will make it my mail signature esp when I respond to my boss, so he is aware of the potentialities.

Alok said...

same here. I never say "i would prefer not to" but all my appraisals do end with "meets expectation". I dread the day when I exceed my "quota" and become a Stakhanovite hehe...