French film Number One tackles sexual politics in today’s big business boardrooms.
The story of Number One – the French title, Numéro une, stresses the feminine gender – concerns high-flyer Emmanuelle who’s been headhunted by a powerful women’s lobby.
Emmanuelle, played by Emmanuelle Devos, is advised that one of the top companies in the country is shortly going to be looking for a new CEO.
She’s urged to apply to become the first female head of such a major company. The competition is fierce – not so much from her rival for the job but his dangerous sponsor, one Jean Beaumel, played by the always powerful Richard Berry.
Number One may open as a simple contest, but soon expands enormously. There are rivalries, not only within the organisation that Emmanuelle is hoping to lead but within the women’s group sponsoring her.
It soon becomes clear that once you decide to compete, there are no half-measures. In business and sexual politics, if you’re not prepared to fight dirty, you might as well not fight at all, it seems.
Emmanuelle initially tries to keep her campaign out of the gutter, particularly when she confronts the ruthless Beaumel at one of the many cocktail parties that punctuate the movie.
Beaumel sneers that she’ll need more than just good PR to get the job. Like ability, wonders Emmanuelle? And they both laugh.
But where an American or a British film might stress the political over the personal in a film like this, Number One is French. And in a French film, the boardroom and the bedroom are seldom far apart.
Pressure is brought to bear on Emmanuelle’s family – her Irish husband and ailing father. And behind the scenes how many of her support team are in bed – figuratively or literally – with Beaumel’s old-school male chauvinists?
The intricacies of the struggle for power are fascinating – not least because the battle to be the first female Number One in a big corporation won’t end with this one result.
Even if she gets the job, Emmanuelle is told, every decision she makes as a CEO will be scrutinised far more than a male would be.
Who’d want to be the first to put her head so far above the parapet, ask her male friends and family?
It’s hard to argue with that. But at least Number One attempts to answer the question convincingly, and suggests that the sooner we get past worrying about the gender of the decision-makers and move onto what the decisions are, the better all round.