Close this search box.

La Syndicaliste: Film Review

La Syndicaliste stars a magnificent Isabelle Huppert, making the film worth a watch despite some structural flaws.

Films and documentaries on whistleblowers have become a fascinating niche of filmmaking. They offer us insight into their lives, allowing the audience to witness the significant struggles and difficulties they go through. Directed by Jean-Paul Salomé, La Syndicaliste aims to do that too. The filmis based on the real-life story of Irish whistleblower Maureen Kearney. As the movie is focused on a woman, it also tackles issues of gender discrimination on an institutional and local level.

Based on a book of the same name, the film follows Maureen Kearney (Isabelle Huppert), a trade unionist for French nuclear power company Areva who fights for the rights of the workers in the company. One day, Maureen learns about a secret deal between the state-owned EDF (Electricité de France) and a Chinese power company. As she fears the transfer of nuclear technology from Areva to China could put an incredibly high amount of French jobs at risk, she reveals the secret deal to politicians, becoming a whistleblower. This is followed by multiple forms of intimidation, including anonymous threats, culminating in a brutal attack on Maureen in her home, which is the focus of La Syndicaliste.

La Syndicaliste tells its story in an investigative journalism style. The audience does not see the attack on Maureen but only its immediate aftermath. The movie opens on a black screen as we hear a call to the police, explaining the conditions the protagonist was found in. After its opening scene, the film goes back in time to explain the events that led to this moment, and to Maureen becoming a whistleblower. It also follows the police investigation, where, in a shocking turn of events, the victim becomes a suspect in her own case. The use of intertitles to underline important names and details have a documentary feel to it: this seems fitting as La Syndicaliste is based on a real story, which the film underlines at its very beginning.

La Syndicaliste
La Syndicaliste (© 2022 Guy Ferrandis – Le Bureau Films, Modern Films)

The music by Bruno Coulais helps build the tension as the film leads up to Maureen’s attack, but La Syndicaliste fails to pick up its pace from then on. During the second act, the movie does not seem to convey the urgency of the situation anymore, as the plot significantly slows down while we witness the police investigation. That may be because, as a thriller rooted in politics and nuclear power, La Syndicaliste touches on many complex topics, perhaps too many to be thoroughly explored in just one movie.

Moreover, as someone who was not familiar with the real story that inspired the movie, I sometimes struggled to keep up with its plot. The time jumps and introduction of many characters throughout the film, albeit both necessary, make the film difficult to follow. The deal between EDF and the Chinese power company is at the heart of the film’s premise as it is the reason why Maureen became a whistleblower, to begin with, but its relevance was not immediately evident to me. The film will be much clearer to the members of the audience who may already know this story, or have more familiarity with French’s political scenario.

The stellar acting from all cast members involved makes the film a compelling watch nonetheless. While everyone is very convincing in their role, Huppert stands out the most amongst the whole cast, delivering a powerful performance as the fiercely determined Maureen Kearney. As someone who always wants to do the right thing, no matter the personal cost that may come with it, she is an extremely compelling character, one we cannot help but root for amid all the injustice and chaos she has to endure.

While it may have its flaws, The Syndicaliste is a fascinating film. The film succeeds in telling Kearney’s story to the wider public. More specifically, the movie is most interesting, as well as heartbreaking, when it shows how easily the police officers pin the blame on Maureen herself, despite her being clearly the victim in this case. The Syndicaliste also underlines how this is not just one case as the same thing happened to another woman, thus making us wonder how many women are still not believed when denouncing violence to the authorities.

Get it on Apple TV

La Syndicaliste is now available to watch on digital and on demand in the UK and various countries. The film will be released in US theaters on December 1, 2023.

Thank you for reading us! If you’d like to help us continue to bring you our coverage of films and TV and keep the site completely free for everyone, please consider a donation.