The workplace is a staple of capitalist societies. It is the place we spend the majority of our lives in so that we can afford to experience the rest of life. Yet, as we’ve seen many times in this decade alone, the workplace often has no loyalty towards its workers. When younger, more abled bodies can come along to fill spaces once occupied by older workers, the workplace easily becomes exploitable. It is this exact dilemma that Breakpoint is concerned with, using it to explore the humanity that exists on both ends of this nightmare scenario.
Set in a textile factory, Odile (Laurence Cote) is a middle aged woman who has been working in the same place for twenty five years. She is quite a surly figure, yet she is also a hard worker, as proven by her efficiency on a sewing machine on top of her longevity in the industry. When her boss announces that they will be hiring a group of young Tunisian women for the factory, Odile and her co-workers all know that their contract terminations are imminent. While disliking the situation, Odile still complies with training one of the women who will replace her, the timid Hafsa (Sonia Emamzadeh). Their relationship begins rocky, as can be expected, but the more time the two spend together, the more that walls begin to be broken down.
The best thing Breakpoint has going for it is the empathy it has for its two leading characters. While Odile is fundamentally the protagonist of this story, director Nicolas Paney recognises that this is a difficult situation for all parties involved. It would be very easy to get into a mindset that paints this particular conflict in binary absolutes, yet there is no easy answer and no matter how well one tries to navigate such a scenario, everyone is going to feel the effects of it. This short regularly uses mid shots and close ups, as well as tight framing and a boxy aspect ratio to generate a sense of claustrophobia and unease throughout. These workers are all in this mess together whether they want to be or not and no matter what occurs, at least one portion of people are going to suffer for it.
Paney and team effectively utilise a sombre, even melancholic, mood throughout the short’s runtime. Despair is right around the corner for someone, and their pasts only further fuel this. Odile and Hafsa get off on the wrong foot when forced together, yet, during a crucial smoke break after an argument, the two begin to confide in each other about why they need the job. Their reasonings are just as good as each other’s, and the mid shot framing that the cinematography utilises here creates a fundamental intimacy for the audience. Beneath all the anxiety and even the spite between these groups, these are human beings and the ways in which human beings are treated as commodities in the capitalist system of this factory is inexcusable regardless of age, belief or circumstance.
The short does somewhat suffer for its length, as it is such an intriguing conflict that the 17 minutes it goes for perhaps don’t do it as much justice as something even just a few minutes longer. There is also somewhat of an over-reliance on dialogue in place of visuals here. The dialogue is stimulating and evocative, but the short could’ve perhaps had more of a punch to its themes had it adopted more imagery or visual based storytelling in places. However, on the whole, this does little to mitigate the importance of the themes it is sharing. In a dog eats dog environment such as the factory depicted, it can be easy to pick a side and stubbornly stick to it. But shorts such as Breakpoint recognise the humanity that is involved, and champions it as an alternative to capitalist systems.
Director: Nicolas Panay
Writer: Nicolas Panay
Stars: Laurence Cote, Sonia Emamzadeh
Runtime: 17 minutes