The Sitting Duck

A silent thriller exploring trauma by Jean-Paul Salomé.

Oct 7, 2023
Dimitris Passas

French director Jean-Paul Salomé casts a light into the cruelty that dominates the world of high-stakes business, raising critical questions regarding major issues of contemporary reality while creating an unpretentious thriller that could fall under several distinct sub-genres. The story is based on real events and narrates the struggles of Maureen Kearney, a champion for the working class who used to work as a delegate for French nuclear company's Areva's CFDT (French Democratic Confederation of Labour) for more than two decades. Her life took a nasty turn when she was contacted by a whistleblower who provided her with information regarding a potential industrial scheme which was in the works and threatened the livelihoods of numerous of Areva's employees. Maureen found herself being unfairly treated by both the company's top brass and, above all, the authorities who took on the investigation of an attack that she suffered inside her own house. On December 7, 2012, Maureen was found by her cleaning lady bound into a chair, with a hat pulled over her head and the letter A carved into her abdomen. However, the most shocking and depraved act was saved for last as the assailants shoved the knife's handle into Maureen's vagina, severely scarring her both physically and mentally. Salomé commences the story with that sequence and then flashbacks a few months earlier to tell the audience what led to this horrific incursion.

The Sitting Duck draws the portrait of a woman of integrity who becomes increasingly withdrawn to herself after the attack, not least due to the manner in which the police are conducting their investigation into the matter. When Maureen's account is doubted, even by the members of her own family, she suffers another shock as her word is not only totally discredited by everybody but, more importantly, from a victim, she becomes the victimizer in the eyes of the law and the public. She is accused of having fabricated the attack for gaining attention in respect to her crusade against the forthcoming alliance between gigantic French nuclear companies and a group of Chinese who want to expand their business on European soil. At a point, Maureen seems to distrust her own self and memories, and she is ready to confess what everyone around her wants her to admit: that she tied her own self and then engraved the letter on her torso all alone. Salomé's film features another acting tour de force by the always impeccable Isabelle Huppert who infuses her portrayal of Maureen with a boldness and emotional nuance which are brought forth as the veteran actor soaks the quintessence of her role: a brave woman who becomes temporarily lost within a hostile, ominous universe where nobody is willing to treat her as a human being.

The plot could be roughly divided into two, unequal in terms of length, parts, with the first 40–45 minutes inclining the audience to think that he will be watching an industrial thriller with heavy political undertones. However, from Maureen's house invasion onward, Salomé's direction moves onto a different terrain, turning the film into a psychological thriller with an internal rhythm that is well-served by the meticulously crafted screenplay, co-signed by Salomé and Fadette Drouard. Huppert, who remains painstakingly persistent, despite sometimes feeling disoriented and distrustful towards her own self, even when her life is shattered and any equilibrium within her inner cosmos is forever upturned. In the end, redemption comes after the help provided by one of the film's secondary characters, a young female police officer who offers some crucial information to Maureen. In that way, the protagonist establishes the foundation upon which she builds her case. This is perhaps the only moment in the movie in which benevolent behavior acquires power and validity; so perhaps the director's intention in terms of tone was not to create a bleak, pessimistic film denouncing the corruption and malfeasance observed in the upper echelons of the industrial world, but to offer a glimmer of hope to all those who stand up against the interests of the mighty; those lingering on a romantic perception of life and their selves. But, even though, Maureen eventually gets her justice, the problems generated by the dismissal of numerous employees still look the audience in the eye as the movie reaches its denouement. There, Salomé and Huppert collaboration creates a dramatically charged scene in which Maureen is speaking to a bunch of reporters and concludes her spiel in the most definitive and assertive of ways by exclaiming: "My name is Maureen Kearney, I didn't lie and I didn't make anything up".

I would rate The Sitting Duck" with an honorary four stars as it is one of the most exciting European thrillers that I've watched during the whole year. French cinema aficionados are definitely in for a treat with this one.


The Sitting Duck
La Syndicaliste
Jean-Paul Salomé
Written by
Fadette Drouard ... (screenplay) Caroline Michel-Aguirre ... (based on the book by) Jean-Paul Salomé ... (screenplay)
Isabelle Huppert, Grégory Gadebois, François-Xavier Demaison, Alexandra Maria Lara, Pierre Deladonchamps
Production Companies
Le Bureau Heimatfilm (co-production) France 2 Cinéma (co-production) Restons Groupés Production (co-production) Les Films du Camélia (co-production) Orange Cinéma Séries (participation) France Télévisions (participation) Le Pacte (participation) The Bureau Sales (participation) Weltkino Filmverleih (participation) Cinéventure 8 (in association with) Indéfilms 11 (in association with) SofiTVciné 10 (in association with) Agence Nationale de Gestion des Oeuvres Audiovisuelles (ANGOA) (support) Centre national du cinéma et de l'image animée (CNC) (support) Film- und Medienstiftung NRW (support) Filmförderungsanstalt (FFA) (support) World Wonder Ring Stardom
121 minutes

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