Along with such recent Gallic offerings as Jacques Audiard’s Read My Lips, Marina de Van’s In My Skin, and Jean-Claude Brisseau’s Secret Things, She’s One of Us exposes the inexorable soul suck and barely veiled pathology of the office environment. Siegrid Alnoy’s occasionally affecting but overdetermined debut feature mines the most unstable sector of the white-collar class: the temp. Registered with the Worktech 2000 temp agency, Christine Blanc (Sasha Andres) shuttles from one deadening three-week assignment to the next at companies with names like Promocash. She dresses as if her entire professional wardrobe came from a Daffy’s outlet in the Rhône-Alpes region: Her ensembles consist of garish reds, bulky shoulder pads, and ill-hanging scarves. Christine’s surname is a none-too-subtle description of her affect; years of compiling invoices and photocopying for scores of chilly, indifferent corporations have made her borderline autism a survival skill. Referred to as “Sandrine” by a thoughtless boss who then asks her to fetch her some coffee, Christine endures the indignities with glassy-eyed imperviousness—but each slight cuts deeply. “It can’t be easy to go from job to job,” one vacant supervisor says with feigned empathy. “Oh, I like to move around” is Christine’s equally lukewarm response.
Unmoored and unhinged, Christine, when not on the clock, drifts from remote wooded areas to food courts, her fragility conveyed by Gabriel Scotti’s anxiety-inducing score. “I love the outskirts and the mall—they don’t ask anything of me,” she says. Living alone, she makes up a phantom boyfriend; with few interlocutors, she steals overheard bits of conversation and recycles them as her own. Her cathexis is her supervisor at Worktech 2000, Patricia (Catherine Mouchet). Like Sissy Spacek’s slow-burning crush on Shelley Duvall in 3 Women, Christine’s attachment to Patricia is full of odd, obsessive gestures: Discovering that Patricia has a passion for porcelain owls, Christine quickly amasses her own collection of the tacky figurines. The halting quality of this friendship is the richest part of Alnoy’s film, deftly capturing the pivotal moments when stiff unease segues to delicate flirtation.
But when the friendship—and Patricia—are terminated by Christine’s murderous rage, She’s One of Us quickly nose-dives into the ridiculous. Now with blood on her hands, the timid temp soon becomes a bloodless permanent employee at a trucking company, complete with a smart chignon, sleeker suits, and a cute boyfriend. As ruthless as Faye Dunaway in Network or Joan Crawford at a Pepsi shareholders’ meeting, the office killer cruelly manipulates an eager colleague hungry for her friendship and approval and orally services the personnel manager.
At times, Alnoy lucidly displays the humiliating aspects of workplace culture, particularly its sense of forced camaraderie, as in a painful scene when Christine’s co-workers take her out for drinks (which rivals the cringe-worthy moments of the office Christmas party scene in Il Posto). But by suggesting that a psychotic break is the necessary precursor to ladder climbing—if not basic job security—she jettisons her nuanced, thoughtful observations for obtuse, overarching ideas about corporate evil. “I’m very sensitive. I know what people feel,” Christine oddly confesses to the police inspector (Carlo Brandt) investigating Patricia’s murder. Her own sensitivities dulled by sociopolitical posturing, Alnoy loses sight of what people feel to give them what she thinks they want to hear.