Friday, September 16, 2005

The Grönholm Method

Every year at the Toronto Film Festival I pick several films nearly blind, having only a programmers brief description and a single image from the film to go by. Discoveries made this way are one of the chief delights of the festival and in the past (for me) have included Memento, Jeux D’Enfants, American Movie and Requiem for a Dream. This years discovery, which put my jaw on the floor several times, and had me smiling with excitement when the end-credits rolled, was the Spanish/Argentinean corporate thriller The Grönholm Method.

Seven applicants arrive at the gigantic tower of the headquarters for Dexia, a multinational corporation. They are all there to apply for the same position, some high-level executive job within the company. The first clue that something is not quite the right and the usual protocol is not being followed is that typically companies bring in applicants separately for interviews whereas here they are letting the applicants mingle. The candidates are as suspicious of this aberration as Dean Keaton and company were in The Usual Suspects. The second clue is that the company makes them all redo their applications in the front office in front of each other. You can feel the competitive juices begin to flow as each candidate sizes one another up. They are brought into a large conference room near the top of the building and told that the company has a new method for recruiting for senior positions. They all are going to have to go through a bunch of tests against one another (in each other presence and at the mercy of each others judgements) until it is last man or woman standing.

This is the latest and greatest corporate recruiting system: The Grönholm Method. If you have ever done job interviews or businmeetings which employ consultant designed systems (from 6 Sigma to Myers-Briggs) you will quake in fear from this unholy incarnation. For example, one of the tests involves simply selecting a ‘leader’ for the group. Considering that all of these people are power-players, just the act manoeuvring for, or around, this position is fascinating. Another test poses the hypothetical situation of the earth being ravaged by some disaster and there is bunker that will hold a number, which is one less than then the number of candidates. Each has to justify their worth to the society within this bunker, using only what is on their resume, and vote would be the most expendable. Much like a certain successful reality-based TV show, when the person is voted off, they are out of the interview process. Several of the candidates are even on to this, immediately expecting one of their fellow interviewees as a company planted mole. The psychology, power struggles, and scheming is taken about as far as one can take it as office politics are played on dizzying level which includes humiliation and cruelty so savage, you might even accept that these executive wannabes might kill one another for the position.

The seven characters are all types, but are so well written and distinct that they manage to go beyond 2 dimensional cut-outs. This is helped by the solid acting across the board which make the film as perfect as this type of pure dialogue film can ever get. The dialogue is razor sharp, insightful and always crackling, but in a way distinct from say the ratta-tat-tat of David Mamet.

There is not a weak note in the entire film, which manages to sustain the mystery and ‘what is going to happen’ nature of the film right to the very last, sublime minute. The tension and black humour are exceedingly well crafted and directed with a nice audio-visual palette: Impersonal blue-dye wool, crisp white shirts, sparse hardwood conference rooms and brushed metal executive bathrooms are scored to that harmless Musak, because, ironically, anything else may be offensive to someone. There is also the bleak irony of a globalization demonstration going on at the base of the skyscraper, as the battle the very power that is being condemned goes on in the Ivory Tower well above the rabble.

The Grönholm Method brings to mind the best elements of Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, LaBute’s In the Company of Men, Lumet’s 12 Angry Men and fellow Argentinian director Fabián Bielinsky’s top-shelf grift flick, Nine Queens. The mask that is put on in the guise of a pin-striped ‘power’ suit for the dance of worst aspects of business: The pitch, the con, the betrayal is pulled off, put on, and switched (sometimes quite literally) across the applicants. The folks at Dexia aren’t working for a win-win situation. They are playing a zero sum game, and the human resource department have clearly spent a lot of time reading William Poundstone’s explanation of game theory, The Prisoners Dilemma. Wordplay and structure suggest that The Grönholm Method may have been based on a play, much like all of the films mentioned above are. There is even a warped corporate team-building version of the tennis-match from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

If you like films that deal with the art of the con, The Grönholm Method will make your year. In fact, I’m so impressed with director Marcelo Piñeyro’s film that I don’t think Mamet need bother heading into this territory as this is already the definitive film in this area. I’ll be mining Piñeyro’s C.V to see if there is anything else worth noting in his other 6 films based on the quality of work on display here.


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