In a world where unemployment rates climb as the global economy falls, a person’s sense of self-worth can begin to come more about whether they have a job, or not, rather than what that job may actually entail. Being gainfully employed is less about being happy in life, and more about the ability to provide a sustainable life for yourself and your family. If going to work each day can more or less pay the bills, then it no longer needs to be about fulfilling any other needs one may have. In many ways, “the daily grind” has more meaning to us now than it has in the past several decades, at least. To what lengths will a person go to take themselves out of unemployment and enter or re-enter the workforce? Is a job – any job – worth changing your understanding of who you are, just to get your foot in the door?
The Job is a documentary film from France which asks those questions and many more. It follows 10 job-seekers through a gruelling 2-day recruitment session, which sees them put through a variety of tests, role-playing exercises, mock debates and more, all while a jury of recruiters mysteriously ascertain who will move to the next round of tests, and who will be sent packing. The applicants are as varied as the tests themselves, in terms of gender, background, race, age and personality, and their are pitted against one another right from the start – and all for a job of which they’re received no real details. The recruiters don’t even look at the applicants’ experience nor ask about qualifications until much further on into the selection process. The entire session is judged upon an undisclosed set of selection criteria, and the confused applicants are put through their paces with no clear idea of how their performances are being received by the recruiters.
Viewers are given clips of individual thoughts and impressions from each of the applicants staggered throughout various stages of the process, but no one seems to know what’s going on in the recruiters’ minds except the recruiters. On the surface, they are all very pleasant for the most part, as well. They even manage to say some pretty harsh things to the applicants – yet with smiles on their faces, to confuse the issue even more. Some of the applicants choose to leave partway through, of their own free will, once they determine that particular recruitment process is not for them. But, despite feeling the same way – and even once they are told that they are vying for a minimum wage salary – the vast majority of applicants stay and endure it until they are eliminated outright by the recruiters. In fact, during the largest elimination round, the applicants being dismissed are asked why they think they’re not being retained. Since none of them really know what they are even being interviewed for, many of them are justifiably surprised. Ironically, those who ARE invited to continue the process are also just as surprised.
What The Job ultimately does is to investigate how much people – any people – will submit themselves to in order to avoid seeing themselves as a “social failure” for not having a job. If the bar of standards is set continuously further down the pole of employment, how far will a person lower themselves in order to meet it? Perhaps most importantly, whether they get the job or not, what will they later think of the people they have become in the process?
The Job screens at the Cumberland Theatre in Toronto as part of the Hot Docs film festival on Friday, April 27 at 9:00pm, Sunday, April 29 at 1:30pm and Sunday, May 6 at 1:15pm