(Le question humaine)
Simon Kessler is a psychologist high up in the human resources department of the Paris branch of the German company chemical company SC Farb. Kessler’s boss gives him what must be an intimidating job, though he never shows any hesitation. He needs to investigate the company’s CEO, who has been acting irregularly, deteriorating quickly from coming to work tardy a few times to showing full-on attacks of paranoid delusions.
This job seems suited to Kessler, thanks to his interest in “the human question,” the literal translation of the film’s French title. His job is to know what makes the executives of this company tick. But the other side of his job is to create “selection criteria,” to quantify the value of the company’s employees so his bosses can best know who to fire and who to keep.
“How do you reconcile the ‘human factor’ with the company’s need to make money?” Kessler is asked in one scene by Jüst, the CEO whom he is investigating.
Through long, static shots (often backgrounded with silence, often with indiscernible mechanical noise, occasionally with vaguely musical hums), Klotz follows both Kessler’s investigation and the moments of release from the sterile corporate offices he inhabits and the black business attire of everyone within.
The investigation leads Kessler on a path that takes him deep into his own beliefs about what he does and deep into Farb’s history, and the releases underscore the unexpressed, pent-up, humanity of Farb’s employees. “Violence is a thriving market, a way to let off steam, a kind of necessary ritual,” states one of Jüst’s former colleagues, a sentiment that is highlighted when Kessler loses control at a rave party.
But for all the talk of investigation and the mystery of what is troubling Jüst, the movie is not a thriller. It’s not interested in building suspense, but rather exploring the “human question” slowly, even ponderously. It doesn’t give any solid answers to the questions asked by Jüst and Kessler, but it makes clear the human misery that results when they are disregarded.