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Biweekly Binge: Up in the air- Cinema express

Biweekly Binge: Up in the air

A fortnightly column on what’s good in the vast ocean of content in the streaming platforms around you, and this week, it's Zero Fucks Given

Published: 06th April 2022

In Julie Lecoustre and Emmanuel Marre’s Zero Fucks Given (streaming on MUBI) Adele Exarchopoulos plays a flight attendant working the shifts around Europe in a low cost airline. The film is claustrophobic in design, not too different from the insides of an airplane with Cassandre (Adele Exarchopoulos) always filmed in extreme close ups. The effect is discomfiting, her static stature and impassive disposition always at odds with the peripatetic nature of her job. She is a not a slacker, but she is unambitious and craves status quo. Her adventurous side is reserved for sexual pleasures during her travel which too she regards with a distance. The film is intensely focused on the blue collar nature of the work—an early scene involves a group of striking workers beseeching the flight attendants to join their cause for better work conditions, pay and healthcare. Cassandre and her colleagues tell them that they understand but cross the picket lines citing that they are late. Immediately the film cuts to the flight passing through dense clouds almost mimicking the nature of their job, nebulous and never allowing them a moment’s notice to think about the larger issues. Their supervisor puts it as plainly as possible, “don’t think about your personal life, there’s no past or future.”

Lecoustre and Marre contrast the flight attendants’ situation with that of a typical low cost airline passenger. The passenger begs for her one size too big bag to be allowed on the flight but is stopped from boarding till she pays a fee. She doesn’t have the money and Cassandre’s coldness is not shown on screen. We see only the hapless passenger’s face as Cassandre is helping other passengers board outside the frame. Later we see a lost Cassandre talking to a mobile phone service provider customer service agent about her mobile plans. The customer service agent is convincing her to take a more expensive plan but only Cassandre’s mother—who died in an accident—is authorized to make the change. Cassandre gently begs for a reconsideration eventually cancelling her number altogether. The shoe is now on the other foot, and it is apparent only to us, not to Cassandre, a heavy Instagram and mobile data user.

The film only poses cursory questions to the establishment on the treatment of these employees. They are forced to level up on their job even if someone like Cassandre is happy rolling as a junior forever. She is questioned about giving high ratings to her subordinates despite some poor on board sales of duty-free, but it doesn’t faze her as much when the flight running attendants are the ones cleaning up at turnarounds too with a senior employee calling upon them on the announcement system. The film takes a detour in the third act when Cassandre gets suspended for selling alcohol using her credit card on air (the film makes it clear that unlike the cutthroat industry, she is capable of empathy) and returns home to her father and sister. Her father now owns a Mercedes SUV and tells her that he likes to be “above” others on the road. His daughter does too only that it makes her feel small like looking from above on specks of people on the ground. And she is happy to go along with it. The film pictures Cassandre through intrusive camerawork but she maintains a dispassionate distance between herself and her profession.

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