I strongly urge New Yorkers to see “Merci, Patron”, a laugh-out-loud radical French documentary that has the power of a Molotov cocktail.
Described by the FIAF (French Institute Alliance Française) publicist as a Michael Moore-inspired documentary that “takes on the fashion industry, globalization, and the richest man in France in an entertaining, personal look at one of today’s biggest issues”, it will be screened one night only on Thursday, December first at 7:30pm in FIAF’s Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th Street (between Madison & Park).
Yes, it is inspired by Michael Moore but only so far. There is an obvious similarity to “Roger and Me” since the film starts off with Fakir journalist François Ruffin trying to meet Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH—the luxury goods conglomerate that originally started as a merger of Louis Vuitton and Moet Hennessy but grew to include many other products marketed to the wealthy. Like Roger Smith, Arnault gives Ruffin the cold shoulder.
One of the companies LVMH absorbed was Kenzo, which like nearly all the takeovers engineered by Arnault resulted in French workers being fired and production moved to low-wage Poland. Ruffin hones in on a group of workers in northern France who were made redundant in the Kenzo takeover. Like the auto workers in Flint, they are facing a grim future—particularly Serge Klur and his wife Jocelyn, a late middle aged couple. They have been reduced to penury and are in danger of losing the house they have lived in for thirty years.
The film revolves around Ruffin working with the Klurs to extort money from Arnault to put it bluntly. Unless he pays them the money they need to pay for their house and to help Serge get a permanent job, they will send letters to newspapers and left politicians bringing attention to their plight, making him look like a greedy bastard. Not only that, they will crash one of his glitzy fashion shows with workers from Goodyear, who were notorious for battling the cops in an effort to save 1,200 jobs in 2013.
Any resemblance between Ruffin and Moore is purely coincidental. It has not only never occurred to Moore to use a film as a tool for workers struggles; he continues to think in utopian terms about how the USA can become more like the “enlightened” French. In his 2015 “Where to Invade Next”, Moore interviews French children who are eating a healthy free lunch and asks the question why can’t the USA do the same. Needless to say, Moore has never paid attention to people like the Klurs nor taken his camera crew to the Calais Jungle where refugees were trying desperately to reach England.
Moore had high hopes for Barack Obama, who he obviously believed would become the European social democrat Fox News warned future Trump voters about. Ruffin has no such illusions. In one telling scene, he shows France’s Obama—the arch-neoliberal François Hollande—surrounded by LVMH executives in some publicity event flattering those who have imposed austerity on the French working class. He states that there is not much the Klurs can expect from the likes of Hollande.
Ruffin has little in common with the pro-Democratic Party comedians like Moore or the sorry lot that are seen each night on Comedy Central or HBO. He is an editor at Fakir magazine, one that I had not heard about previously. The money to make the film came from Fakir subscribers. Maybe Jacobin could think in terms of using its expanding empire to fund similar efforts.
Some commentators credit “Merci, Patron” as inspiring the Nuit debout movement, a protest against legislation designed to make the French labor market more “flexible”. Arnault, who is the richest man in France and the 12th richest person in the world, clearly understood what he was up against when he stated the following about the film: “LVMH is the illustration, the incarnation of the worst, according to these extreme leftist observers, of what the market economy produces.” If there’s hope for the French, let’s hope for ourselves as well.