Star – Tahar Rahim
Genre – World Cinema > Drama
Run Time –94 minutes
Certificate – 15
Country – France (subtitles)
Amazon – £15.00 DVD
Awards – 4 Wins & 9 Nominations
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With the news that China and France are to pay for, run and staff our next generation of nuclear power plants then Grand Central turns out a revealing and contemporary French drama of what’s to come. China are to receive an extremely inflated and guaranteed amount of money for each therm of electricity they produce in the plants and that will help British Nuclear fuel to pay down the estimated $15 billion cost of the build. Most of that cost will be passed on to the consumer in higher bills and cost savings expected in staff and sub-contracted work to bring that bill down some more.
Grand Central, although a straightforward love story, explores a little known aspect of nuclear power where contractors try to get the cheapest labor possible to run and clean them so to maximize their profits. You would think the wages would be really good around working with radiation but not so, in France the long term unemployed sent to these places to work or risk losing their benefits. Because accidents happen the staff turnover is high as the low skilled and poorly educated immigrant and local workforce build up radiation exposure through mistakes and longevity at the plants. The power stations simply get rid of the staff - that have little benefits and union support - when they are over - exposed to radiation at the plant. Because the people need the work and have to be there they alter their monitoring badges to keep working to get money and so avoid sanction on welfare. Its pretty brutal and exploitative stuff and coming to a nuclear power station near you.
• Tahar Rahim as Gary Manda
• Léa Seydoux as Karole
• Denis Ménochet as Toni
• Olivier Gourmet as Gilles
• Johan Libéreau as Tcherno
• Camille Lellouche as Géraldine
• Nahuel Pérez Biscayart as Isaac
• Nozha Khouadra as Maria
• Guillaume Verdier as Bertrand
• Marie Berto as Morali
Gary (Tahar Rahim), an unskilled blue collar guy, lands a job as a decontamination sub-contractor at a nuclear power plant in the lower valley of the Rhone, the Grand Central power plant in France. Inducted into the workforce by supervisor Gilles (Olivier Gourmet) and veteran Toni (Denis Ménochet), who both live on a gypsy site, the cocky and confident Gary quickly discovers that cleaning up radiation is as scary as it sounds. Contamination is not just a risk factor with the job but an everyday hazard. You rely on each other in the cleaning teams and if you make a mistake it could be yours, or there, last. The team of cleaners wear various levels of protection for each area of the power station and the higher the risk the more money you get per hour, although the money not that much. Each worker wears a badge on their suits that monitors their exposure and once you go over a certain limit in the month you are moved to a lower risk area or let go.
At the same time, Gary begins an illicit affair with Karole (Léa Seydoux), Toni’s fiancée. It turns out that Toni is sterile from his time working at the plant, and Karole becomes pregnant by Gary. But Toni becomes suspicious of the handsome young man and if you don’t have 100% trust of your fellow team members in Grand Centrals reactor zones you better start worrying about your safety.
The concept and reality of cheap labor exploited in nuclear power stations is interesting as it is shocking whereas the love story wrapped around the jeopardy feels more like female director Marie Zlotowski instincts taking over here. It simply doesn’t work as the two leads are too attractive and perfect to make you believe they would be in this bind. But if you are a young French director and these two offer their services you can’t say no. I’m guessing this film would have not been made without them. I also feel it would have had more appeal if the cast were unknown so we could have more Silkwood and China Syndrome action. There will never be another nuclear power station film like they made in the 1970s. Saying that it did win at Cannes and five other European festivals so it must have made an impact.
Grand Central has that rare appeal of pulling the viewer into a world hardly seen in real life, and even less on screen. The scariest part of this film is when the radiation klaxons start up as the workers pass through the detectors but after a while you realize that is simply a metaphor for the risky romance and the radiation side of things fizzles out. Under age gypsy girls marrying middle aged men would have been another exposed nuclear fuel rod to touch on.
The plotting may be contrived but Zlotowski cranks up the tension effectively enough as our lothario Rahim has to deal with both the threat of radiation poisoning and the consequences of his actions with someone else girl who knows a lot of violent thieving gypsies.
It’s a solid watch and you do get involved in Rahim’s character and his bravado around the plutonium. The smoldering Léa Seydoux is two dimensional throughout and her best bit on screen is when she whips off her kit off to reveal a cracking body. Again, the director seemed to be trying to sell her film first with big French stars and nudity than exploiting the interesting conflict of working in and around nuclear power. The acting is OK and the tension there as a film unwinds in front of you that you really don’t know where it’s going to go.
The budget of $3.9m clawed back just $2.7 and so considered a flop in any other genre but subtitled films rarely make a profit so I would consider it a breakeven. But I like foreign films because only the good ones generally make it to a British market and they are always interesting and emotionally tort from France. They have a certain texture our movies don’t. Saying that if you don’t like subtitles then this may not be foe you as its medium talky.
Imdb.com – 6.2/10.0 (1,175votes)
Rottentomatos.com – 92% critic’s approval
Metacritic.com – 85%critic’s approval
Irish Times –‘The film's white trash world of hip-hop, trailer parks, cheap clothes and cheaper wine is beautifully realized’.
Montreal Times –‘The film hits its stride in the second half, hinting at the emotional confusion and unspoken motives of these characters as they circle one another, hoping to get what they want and somehow emerge unscathed’.
FilmForward.com –‘ Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) and Léa Seydoux are not only convincing but raise the heat without overpowering Rebecca Zlotowski's sensitive, fly-on-the-wall approach’.
The Guardian –‘I found it gripping, with an edge of delirium; the locations within the power station are positively Kubrickian; there's a disquieting electronic score and Tahar Rahim gives a very open, generous performance’.
Radio Times –‘Zlotowski takes admirable risks, and the result is a flawed, provocative curio’.
The Observer –‘Rahim and Seydoux keep things grounded in the familiar isotopes of human emotion, their passion less explosive than merely uncontained, progressing inexorably toward meltdown’.