Directed by Véronique Jadin and co-written by Jadin and Nina Vanspranghe, Employee of the Month is a dark feminist revenge comedy that takes place over the span of one extremely eventful workday at the humble local office of a Belgian cleaning products company.
Inès (Jasmina Douieb) is a 17-year veteran at EcoCleanPro, handling the work of five departments whilst her male coworkers slack off and insult her coffee. When a corporate executive (Laurence Bibot) visits the branch and reveals its dismal performance in the realm of equitable pay, Inès decides to push back against the injustice and confront her boss, Patrick (Peter Van den Begin). After her request for a much-deserved raise takes a sharp left turn, Inès and young accounting trainee Mélody (Laetitia Mampaka) need to put their heads together to clean up one hell of a mess. The workday gets more complicated as the rest of their coworkers, including worthless sales bro Nico (Alex Vizorek) and warehouse worker Tom (Philippe Grand’Henry), start to notice that things seem a little off with the increasingly rebellious Inès.
The cast clearly had fun with the material, turning in giddily satirical performances that lampoon the quotidian mundanities and minor outrages of modern office life in a patriarchal world. Van den Begin plays the slimy, sexist manager to perfection, oozing around the office and placating Inès with transparent lies and smarmy grins, while Jasmina Douieb’s Inès ping-pongs between unhinged company loyalty (answering customer phone calls in the midst of scrubbing a crime scene, for instance) and righteous anger against an office culture that has oppressed her for the better part of two decades.
Kudos to production designer Jennifer Chabaudie and location scout Renaud Boucquey, whose work triggered flashbacks of my own time working in an office (never again). Bonus points for prop master Pia Burin des Roziers, who I assume was responsible for packing Patrick’s office with a wide array of phallic imagery—subtle and hilarious.
Mild spoilers ahead.
While the first half of the film is comparatively lighthearted, if bloody, there is a slight tonal shift partway through as the partnership between the two women starts to erode. What begins with a couple of microaggressions by the white Inès soon escalates to victim-blaming after Mélody reveals that she is the survivor of a sexual assault. Inès’s skepticism is rightfully shut down by Mélody and the charged conversation triggers an epiphany for the older woman, who seems to come to a disturbing realization about some of her own sexual experiences. At Mélody’s insistence, the revenge tour soon expands beyond the confines of EcoCleanPro. Occurring at a point where the film begins to become slightly repetitive, this shift in the dynamic piqued my interest and I wish that the limitations of white feminism had been explored in a little more depth.
Overall, Employee of the Month is a sly and enjoyable little romp. (My biggest complaint is that its absolute banger of an end credit song, “Witches” by Juicy, doesn’t seem to be available anywhere. If anyone knows the artist personally, let your girl know!). Check out Employee of the Month at the Fantasia International Film Festival on Tuesday, July 19th.