À Nous La Liberté (1931) – Film Analysis

a nous la liberte movie poster 1

Nuran Yıldırım

Middle East Technical University

Since organizations are conspicuous characteristics of modern industrialized societies, increasing number of them in each and every fields of life of mankind displays their importance. Despite their importance, organizations are also pointed out as the source of several problems in modern societies. Negative effects of the massive growth of organizations in every area of social existence basically explained by Ritzer with a term ‘Mcdonaldization of Society’[1]-in which the rationality of fast food restaurant on food preparation, employee-customer relations, depersonalization and most importantly mass production techniques are becoming dominant in every sector of life all around the globe because of globalization.  In this context, in this essay, I will try to analyze the film namely, À nous la liberté[2], that is directed by Rene Clair and staring Henri Marchand and Raymond Cordy. Apart from being the first foreign language film which received an Acady Award nomination, À nous la liberté is a great satire of mass production through portraying the dehumanization of workers at industrial age. Thus, my focus will be on the place of freedom in organizations represented throughout the film. Further, I will try to give an insight into nature of organizations and management by analyzing ‘prison’ metaphor in particular. Finally, a conclusion will be made in order to summarize key points analyzed in the main part.

Initially, the film starts in prison were two friends Louis (Raymond Cordy) and Emile (Henri Marchand) work in labor intensive assembly work and planning to escape together. But their escape plan does not go as planned, only Louis does escape successfully and the other, Emile, stays behind. Years pass and Louis becomes owner of a huge company in charge with a phonograph business. In the meantime, Emile is finally released from prison and eventually finds himself working at his friend’s phonograph factory, not even knowing his friend, Louis, is the owner at first. Then two old friends reunite and become an odd couple.

As noted before, Ritzer explains McDonaldization is ‘the process by which the principles of the fast food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more the sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world’ (Ritzer, 1983). While he focuses on McDonaldization by association globalization as one built on dehumanizing and often ultimately irrational principles, he highlights the supreme efficiency of McDonald’s service as a testament to the assembly lines of Henry Ford, ‘speeding the way from secretion to excretion’ (Engle, 2012). Through the assembly lines, each employee is responsible for a smaller portion of a job and this brings the limitation employee’s freedom and he or she also becomes more dependent in the work situation. As a model of workplace organizations the phonograph factory presented throughout the film directed by Rene Clair is a clear example of assembly line technology and the mass production in order to evaluate worker’s experience of freedom and alienation at the same time. Since the assembly line have a speed set that considerable increasing for more production, workers are forced to keep working in synchronization each and every day.  Thus, the pressure over the workers increases to fulfill a repetitive and dull job defined by the organization.  For instance, in one impressive scene of the film, while workers are working continuously on the assembly line, process fall out of control as a result of speeding up the line. Therefore, the modern industrial age on the assembly lines causes dehumanization of mankind, alienation and most importantly limited freedom, even not to mention dissatisfaction of workers, extreme working hours, severe work conditions and so on so forth.

Additionally, it might be argued that the film gives an insight into the nature of organizations and management. The impressive opening scene of À nous la liberté takes places in prison in which prisoners are  acting like machine and toiling on the assembly line which speeds up to produce little toy horses in a factory setting. For example, even the lunches of workers are served on an assembly line just like the job they do. Throughout the film, the director Rene Clair represents dehumanization of workers or prisoners by shifting the scenes from prison to factory which is producing record players and owned by ex-convict, Louis whom escaped from prison. Thus the absolute picture on dehumanizing of mankind shows the parallelism of life in factory and life in prison. In other words, life of workers at the modern industrial age is identical with the life of a convict in prison.

All in all, À nous la liberté is a great satire of modern mass production on the assembly line and a successful critique of age of industrialization by Rene Clair. Clair uses a strong metaphor in order to indicate dehumanization of mankind in the assembly line which is the ‘great’ invention of Henry Ford. Throughout the film, the story presented along musical lines and this gives the film a taste of musical since the film has little talks and the characters sing at several times as well. Furthermore, it must be noted Clair’s film À nous la liberté obviously influenced by Charlie Chaplin to create his famous film- Modern Times. The production company of the film, even, filed a lawsuit against Chaplin by claiming Chaplin plagiarized many ideas from À nous la liberté while creating ‘Modern Times’. In fact Clair as the director of the film refused the lawsuit since he considers inspiration of Chaplin from his film is nothing but a compliment to him.

 

Bibliography

Engle, J. (2012). McDonaldization: An Analysis of George Ritzer’s Theories and Assertions.

The Journal of Peace, Prosperity & Freedom, 113-123. Retrieved 2015, from http://www.la.org.au/files/LibertyAustralia/McDonaldization_An_Analysis_of_George_Ritzers_Theories_and_Assertions_-_John_Engle.pdf

Ritzer, G. (1983). The “McDonaldization” of Society. Journal of American Culture, 6(1), 100–107. Retrieved 2015, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1542-734X.1983.0601_100.x/abstract

Scott, W.R. (2003). Organizations: Rational, Natural and Open Systems. Pearson, 3-30

Notes

[1] It is a concept used by sociologist George Ritzer in his book titled  ‘The McDonaldization of Society’ (1993). He explains that homogenization of cultures as a result of adoption the characteristics of a fast-food restaurant.

[2] ‘Freedom for us’ in English

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