The unique pains of finding a job are almost universally relatable. In order to succeed, you must present a certain marketable version of yourself, place yourself in unnatural situations and, above all, play by the rules. It’s even harder when you have neither experience nor qualifications to your name. Claudine Bories and Patrice Chagnard’s observational documentary Rules of the Game (Les règles du jeu) takes on this very subject, focusing on a small, idiosyncratic group of disenfranchised young adults as they attend an employment consultancy firm in northern France. Through a series of vignettes we are effectively positioned to empathise with their frustrations, failures and successes over a number of months as they are coached through various stages of the employment process. Amusing and engaging throughout, Rules of the Game is a delicately handled, competently constructed documentary from Bories and Chagnard.
The main focus is on the interactions between the young job-seekers and the consultants. The job seekers each face their own host of obstructions to securing employment. Lolita has a short fuse and a blunt tongue, unable to feign the enthusiasm necessary to win over potential employers. Kevin is shy and reluctant to sell himself, hesitant to pick up the phone. Maxime has trouble with the system, struggling to differentiate between his “qualities” and “skills.” Hamid was a professional football player before family problems interfered. The coaches attempt to overcome these barriers, teaching them the “rules of the game” necessary to achieve their goals. Strengths are emphasised over weaknesses, negatives spun into positives, all the while revealing the rigidities and trivialities imposed by a system where people are reduced to their ability to satisfy generic criteria.
The film is broken up into segments by quaint intertitles which hint at the events to come: comprised of concise, somewhat vague phrases like “Hamid is sure of himself,” and “Thierry is ambitious.” These act both as a distancing device and a kind of running commentary, reminding the audience of the film’s overarching composition. However, often these seem an unnecessary addition, the series of events holding their own logical, self-explanatory progression. Exterior shots of the employment consultancy interspersed throughout the film already demarcate the changing of the seasons. These are perhaps the only detractions to the film’s otherwise admirably restrained approach, which manages to take up a position while never approaching didacticism.
The film premiered at Cannes this year as part of the parallel ACID program, which runs independently of the main selection. Rules of the Game, while holding its own merits, ultimately doesn’t quite manage to reach the memorable heights of the other observational documentary screening at this year’s Cannes, namely Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery (or for that matter its namesake, Renoir’s classic 1939 comedy of manners). Nevertheless, its insightful, empathetic observations and host of colourful characters make Rules of the Game a commendable, worthwhile documentary that is deserving of a greater audience.