Life & Culture

La Syndicaliste review: Playing the union blues

Electrifying central performance from Isabelle Huppert keeps sparks flying in gripping mystery thriller


La Syndicaliste
Cert: 15, Out Friday | ★★★★✩

This gripping mystery thriller from French director Jean-Paul Salomé is based on the true story of Maureen Kearney, a trade union organiser in the French nuclear industry who became both a suspect and victim of a huge political scandal.

Salomé was inspired to make the film after reading investigative journalist Caroline Michel-Aguirre’s book La Syndicaliste and the film of the same name — called Sitting Duck in America — features an electrifying central performance from Isabelle Huppert.

Irish-born French union representative Maureen Kearney is a much-feared union representative who is seldom intimidated by threats from industry leaders.

But after she becomes a whistleblower, denouncing top-secret deals that shook the French nuclear sector, her life is turned is brutally upended. She is assaulted in her own home, tied to a chair and mutilated.

Assuming that the horrific assault is a warning, Maureen and her husband Gilles spend the ensuing months under police protection.

But when the crime is under investigation, doubt starts to creep into the minds of the investigators — to such an extent that Maureen is eventually accused of having staged her own assault.

And so viewers are faced with an ethical dilemma: is she a victim or a perpetrator?
Confession: I was initially sceptical at casting Huppert as the Irish-born Kearney. Although fluent in French, the real Maureen has a noticeable accent when she speaks the language,

But although Huppert plays her with a Parisian French accent, the casting works superbly.
The actor’s performance recalls her role in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle in which she also played a rape victim accused of making up her assault.

Israeli-born French actor Yvan Attal also gives a measured performance as the former chairman of nuclear company Aveva Luc Oursel who finds himself at war with Maureen over his alleged nefarious dealings with China.

This is a truly shocking story that is told with precision and sensitivity. I knew very little about the political scandal before watching the film, and I was was gripped from the get-go.

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