Tonie Marshall discusses workplace sexism as she observed it for her film Numéro Une, and the possibilities for feminism after Harvey Weinstein and in the wake of #MeToo.
Centred on a middle-aged woman attempting to become the first woman CEO to reach the CAC 40 — an exclusive category that comprises all the biggest companies in the French industry — Numéro Une might feel timely in the months after Harvey Weinstein’s crimes came out into the open, and the #MeToo movement got the wheels of change turning. But director Tonie Marshall has been making women-centric films for decades — in France, she is most famous for her hit Venus Beauty (1999), following a group of eccentric, unconventional women working at a beauty parlour.
Numéro Une is explicit in its feminism: the film centres on successful businesswoman Emmanuelle Blachey (played brilliantly by French acting legend Emmanuelle Devos), as she is contacted by a feminist group aiming to help her reach the top of the industry, and thus advance the cause of women. But the film is also feminist in its very construction, focusing on a middle-aged woman without taking pity on her. Emmanuelle is ambitious, but not aggressive and macho the way her rival Jean Baumel (Richard Berry) is. Her whole attitude — calm, collected, but not without moments of weakness — is another, refreshing kind of strength.
Marshall was just as eloquent, composed, and good-natured when I met her in January. She talked about the consequences of the Harvey Weinstein revelations and her belief in quotas, the sexism she found in the energy industry; working with younger people, and Catherine Deneuve’s controversial open-letter.