Footnotes vs. 7 Minutes: Two Reflections on the Industrial Revolution, 21st Century-Style

Footnotes [Sur Quel Pied Danser], a French 2016 film by directors Kostia Testut and Paul Calori, and 7 Minutes [7 Minuti], an Italian/French/Swiss 2016 film by director Michele Placido, deal with similar themes.  In 7 Minutes a textile mill has been bought out by a French conglomerate and in Footnotes a factory owner of haute couture handmade shoes in France announces some “upgrades” soon to be done at the factory.  In both films, for good reasons, the employees, almost all women, fear plant closures and loss of jobs—jobs that some have held for many years.

The treatment of the painful theme of downsizing, outsourcing, work obsolescence, and job loss are treated very differently in the two movies.  7 Minutes is all drama.  Footnotes, on the other hand, is a musical that in the beginning comes across as humorous, but as the story progresses the underlying satire becomes more apparent.  I think a more literal translation of the French title—Sur Quel Pied Danser—gives greater insight to the film:  On Which Foot to Dance.  On one hand the workers are suspicious of the owner’s intentions and decide to strike, on the other hand, the owner is a slick charmer, and manages to assuage their fears.  In the musical numbers, first they are dancing strikers, then they are dancing sycophants, all but two characters, one who continues to mistrust the owner, the other, the main character of the film who has just started her job and wants to finally get a paycheck.

In 7 Minutes, the textile mill employees know the mill is being sold, and they learn the workers will keep their jobs—but on one condition.  The workers have 11 women to represent them visà-vis the new owners and at first the decision to acquiesce to the condition seems a no-brainer.  Only the oldest and wisest mill-worker Bianca points out that the decision is not so simple.

What ensues in the film is full of fiery drama reminiscent of the classic Sidney Lumet film 12 Angry Men starring Henry Fonda, where everyone in a jury except one (Fonda, of course) believes a man to be guilty.  In 7 Minutes the women, who come from different generations, backgrounds, and family situations, take sides, change sides, turn on each other, and finally reach a decision.

I saw these films at the Seattle Film Festival (SIFF) 2017 where audiences get to vote for Best Actor and Best Actress.  I could have selected several for Best Actress from the cast, though there was not one who stood out as the lead actress—the sage Bianca played by Ottavia Piccolo perhaps gets that title.   Maria Nazionale is the angriest of the “11 Angry Women” and though at times we hate her, her acting is tremendous.  In fact, kudos to all the actresses in the film and also to the director Michele Placido for bringing out such strong performances and composing such a well-structured film. This film takes place in Italy and is in Italian.

I, unfortunately, do not give such high accolades to Footnotes.    The satirical treatment of the main theme, as mentioned above, is quite clever, but another theme is tacked on belatedly, that of choice between steady work and a romantic bohemian lifestyle.  The young actress Pauline Etienne does well in her role as a young woman seeking her first full-time permanent job.  Where the film fails is in her romantic relationship with a young truck delivery played by the actor Olivier Chantreau.  Though Chantreau is a popular actor in France, I felt no chemistry between the two and her attraction to him as the character he plays rather boggles the mind.  Maybe it’s a French thing?  Ironically Chantreau played in another French film at SIFF 2017, Moka, where he has a romantic relation with a much older woman—there’s much more chemistry there.

The other fault with Footnotes is a personal one, in that I just did not find the music memorable—of that soft, amorphous, somewhat atonal style that is so very French.  My apologies to the French and to Francophiles to whom this style of music is beloved.  I should mention I liked the acting of François Morel who plays the shoe factory’s manager who is shoved into a thankless role between the women workers and the rich factory owner.

By Karen Samdahl
Related categories: Movie Reviews