Zero Fucks Given

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Zero Fucks Given, or the similarly blunt Rien à Foutre in the original French, sometimes also goes by the title Carpe Diem, in parts of the world where fucks actually are given about rude words. No matter what you call it you get the same thing: a detail-rich portrait of the life of the flight attendant, and smuggled inside that a sensitive drama about a young woman whose life is emotionally as up in the air as her job.

Don’t worry too much about the sensitive drama bit. You could almost ignore it – though it eventually brings plenty to the table – and still be mightily entertained by this film by Julie Lecoustre and Emmanuel Marre (their first together as co-directors).

The entire weight of it sits on the shoulders of Adèle Exarchopoulos, who plays Cassandre, a flight attendant on a budget airline whose job consist mostly of squeezing money out of passengers, either by the strict enforcement of baggage allowances or the relentless flogging of onboard tat to her captive customers – how true this all rings.

Quotas have been set by head office and Cassandre is good at hitting them, thanks to her ready smile and her persistence. And when she’s not working, Cassandre’s life consists of taking MDMA and dancing, arranging hook-ups for zipless sex with whoever’s in her home base of Lanzarote, or of posting pretty pictures on Instagram – my fantastic life etc.

It is the ideal job for a young person. But one day Cassandre is offered promotion, and suddenly, along with the added headaches that being cabin manager brings, she is hit by the realisation that maybe life consists of more than doing the man’s bidding. Cassandre’s time in the happy valley might be coming to an end.

Cassandre flat out on a sun lounger
After a big night out

A brilliant piece of writing – by Lecoustre, Marre and co-writer Mariette Désert – let us into what’s ailing Cassandre, why the slight sadness behind the ready smile, through a sales conversation with a faceless call-centre employee trying to get Cassandre to take a phone contract upgrade.

Exarchopoulos is brilliant throughout, fiercely committed to the role. In shots that consist of nothing more than watching as she pulls her wheelie suitcase along a road she radiates Cassandre’s character – a woman possibly on the verge of emotional collapse behind that “zero fucks given” exterior.

Hooray for Exarchopoulos. When she arrived hot on the scene ten years ago in the headline-grabbing (lesbian sex will do that) Blue Is the Warmest Colour, it looked for a while as if her co-star, Léa Seydoux, was going to be the one who cleaned up. And for a while Seydoux did – working with Wes Anderson, Yorgos Lanthimos and David Cronenberg, plus a gig on two Bond movies. But bear in mind that Seydoux is older than Exarchopoulos by eight years, was a child star and had already worked with the likes of Catherine Breillat, Quentin Tarantino and Ridley Scott when she did Blue Is the Warmest Colour. It also can’t hurt that she’s French movie royalty (her grandfather, Jérôme Seydoux, is chairman of Pathé).

It’s also worth remembering that it was Exarchopoulos who won the Palme d’Or at Canne for Blue Is the Warmest Colour (the youngest person ever). And now that she’s currently starring in Ira Sachs’s Passages with Franz Rogowski, after years doing great work in well regarded films like The Five Devils and Sibyl, Exarchopoulos is coming good and being recognised for it. Here, her smile, her husky voice and her ability to turn on the sex appeal when necessary help layer complexity onto a character who herself layers emotion beneath this film’s almost documentary-like surface (so much great research).

Two other things about this warm, generous, funny, clever, gripping, interesting and humane movie. Olivier Boonjing’s great cinematography which here and there devolves into that Instagram/overlit Polaroid look for moments of superficial emotional resonance. And Mara Taquin, somehow asserting herself as Cassandre’s fun, wild, normal sister in later scenes as Cassandre re-connects with family and old school friends and rediscovers a missing part of herself. The bit that does actually give a fuck.

Zero Fucks Given – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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