Doc about workers' revenge on France's richest man becomes smash hit

AFP | In the documentary "Merci Patron!" (Thanks boss!), former textile workers take on Luxury group LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault, pictured.

French audiences have been cheering in the aisles for a documentary film about the so-called little guys taking on France's richest man and laughing all the way to the bank.


So far, more 120,000 people have flocked to see "Merci, Patron!" (Thanks Boss!) on little more than word of mouth but it is now being expanded onto nine times as many screens across France.

The stars of the film are Jocelyne and Serge Klur, an unemployed, middle-aged couple from northern France who lose their jobs in the textile industry when the company opens up new factories in Poland.

With the help of leftwing activist and film-maker François Ruffin, the Klurs make billionaire Bernard Arnault, the head of LVMH fashion and luxury goods empire, pay for "ruining their lives".

The darkly comic film has become a rallying cry for thousands of French workers who have lost their jobs -- or who fear losing them -- to foreign labour.

Recently, protestors demonstrating against reforms of France's labour laws used the film's title as a slogan at marches. They’ve also taken to singing its 70s theme song, also titled "Merci Patron!", which urges bosses and workers to swap places.

Ruffin played an active role in helping the Klur couple save their home and find Serge a full-time job. In the process, they run rings around Arnault's sidekicks, including a former intelligence officer and a politician from the ruling Socialist party.

Ruffin said the film's magic was its "liberating effect" on audiences.
"When you see such an empire trembling in front of something so insignificant it has a liberating effect," he insisted.

Arnault himself has remained tightlipped about the affair. LVMH, which owns such fabled brands as Dior, Givenchy and Louis Vuitton, declined to comment to French press agency AFP.

The film tops French website Allocine's audience ratings of the best films currently on release alongside another documentary, "Demain" (Tomorrow), which showcases positive solutions to the global climate crisis.

Middle-class also worried

Sociologist Michel Pincon said its Michael Moore-style scenario has caught the mood of a country where "people crave a little security in a world where capitalism has become more and more unbridled".

Pincon admitted that the movie's "audiences were mostly middle-class" (as opposed to working class) but that the debates after screenings "prove that they, too, are also worried for themselves and their children".

The film plays strongly on France's working-class northern "Ch'ti" culture, contrasting the locals’ love of beer, French fries and stinky Maroilles cheese with Arnault, who owns the Moet & Chandon, Dom Perignon and Veuve Clicquot champagne houses.

The film, however, does not totally dehumanise Arnault.

John Baxter, an American who saw the film in Paris, said he could never imagine a US business leader compensating former workers years after getting rid of them.

"Arnault is the bad guy of course -- and the sting is at his expense -- but he doesn't come out of it all bad. He clearly has some kind of a conscience. Most American business leaders would not give these people the time of day. They would just blow them off," he added.

Arnault sparked the wrath of the French left in 2012 when he applied for Belgian nationality after the government proposed higher taxes on the rich, prompting the Liberation newspaper to run the front page headline, "Clear off, rich loser!"

A fighting film

Like its protagonists, the film faced an against-the-odds battle to get made, losing half of its tiny €30,000 ($33,000) budget when state funding was withdrawn "without explanation" at the last minute.

Journalists working at France's highest-selling national newspaper, Le Parisien, which is owned by Arnault, claimed they were banned from writing about it.

The host of a top radio show also admitted that the film's director Ruffin was "uninvited" from his show after management intervened, apparently fearing they would lose advertising revenue from Arnault's businesses.

Meanwhile, the Kenzo suits that the Klurs once made in Poix-du-Nord are now manufactured in Bulgaria after LVMH switched production from Poland after wages rose. But salaries have fallen so sharply in crisis-hit Greece that the Bulgarian factory's owners are now considering moving some operations there.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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