“The Factory, the good, the bad and the ugly”: a union battle filmed like a social western

“The Factory, the good, the bad and the ugly”: a union battle filmed like a social western


Good news is not that frequent, so let’s stop for a few moments on The Factory, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly , a documentary by Marianne Lère Laffitte, in the form of a social western. In spring 2021, the director and producer, a graduate of Fémis, discovered the fight of three elected staff members, Julien, Cyril – both unionized with the CGT – and Arnaud, an executive without a label, fighting against the closure of the Chapelle stationery factory. Darblay. Located in Grand-Couronne (Seine-Maritime), a few kilometers from Rouen, the factory is the last site in France to manufacture 100% recycled paper, ensuring the equivalent of sorting 24 million people per year.

In 2019, the Finnish owner (UPM) decided to sell the company and lay off the staff. Shutdown since June 2020, the factory is threatened with being transformed into a hydrogen production site. Which would have the consequence, beyond the social catastrophe, that recycled paper would have to be imported in the future… An ecological nonsense at a time when the public authorities, moreover in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, only talk about reindustrialization and local production.

The employees of the Chapelle Darblay stationery factory, the “pap-chaps” as they say, do not intend to let this happen. The documentary follows the daily lives of Julien, Cyril and Arnaud, glued to their phones and videoconference meetings, trying to present to the public authorities the candidacy of a buyer specializing in sorting (Veolia and Fiber Excellence), with the help from the Ecological and Social Alliance collective – formerly Never Again. The socialist president of the Rouen-Normandy metropolis, and mayor of Rouen, Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol, will prove to be a valuable ally.

Picaresque atmosphere

The film’s music is not by Ennio Morricone (1928-2020), but the tone resembles it, establishing the dramaturgy from the first images – let’s also salute the lyrical songs dramatizing the story, like a voice-over. The serenity of the camera, capturing the superb scenery of the metal machines of the factory, at a standstill (as before the response), adds to the picaresque atmosphere of the film. Here is the coveted treasure of the “pap-chaps”, their work tool…

The staff elected office, overlooking the deserted car park, becomes the scene of twists and turns. One day there is hope, another day it makes you tired over yet another cup of coffee. As singer Dominique A would say, Julien, Cyril and Arnaud have “the courage of birds, which sing in the icy wind” .

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