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5. 12. 2022

Everywhere and Nowhere. Zero Fucks Given Protagonist Doesn’t Believe in Change

Author: Tereza Bonaventurová

Zero Fucks Given, the first feature from the director team Marre and Lecoustre, is a psychological drama set inside a low-budget airline and, at the same time, a social critique of its inner workings.


The original title of the Belgian-French film Rien à foutre is difficult to translate into Slovak or Czech without it sounding too vulgar. The English title Zero Fucks Given is universally used and reflects the character of the main protagonist, Cassandra. 


At first glance, Cassandra is the embodiment of zero fucks given, that is, she does not care about the world just like she does not care about her life. She works as a flight attendant in a fictitious low-budget airline called Wing and spends all her free time in the final destination of her flight at parties, on Tinder or riding an electric scooter. She is seemingly carefree, unburdened by goals or dreams she would like to achieve, unlike some of her colleagues whose greatest goal in life is to work for Emirates, “the real airline”. Cassandra seems satisfied with her job and her place in life. Yet satisfaction is the last thing radiating from her face. It is rather sadness, routine, professional training, aloofness and internal emptiness that might look like contentment from the outside. 


Documentary in a drama


The way the camera focuses on Cassandra and the movie’s overall effect and atmosphere are reminiscent of a documentary approach. Yet the casting of Adèle Exarchopoulos (known for Blue Is the Warmest Colour) as Cassandra erases that notion and strongly underscores the fact that this is fiction. Exarchopoulos is the only professional actress on board of the plane and at the airport, and the remaining cast is made up of actual airline employees.


Cassandra’s behavior and perception of the world based on the carpe diem principle or YOLO (You only live once) probably stem from the loss of her mother who died in a car accident. Cassandra’s reaction to the fact that she should think about her future carries more weight than might seem at first. The sudden loss could make her believe that there is no point trying to achieve something since life is so short. At the same time, there is social pressure that requires individuals to take initiative, perform and achieve, both at a personal and professional level. 


Cassandra’s decision to become a flight attendant is probably tied to her desire to escape the pain, grief and lack of purpose after the loss, while trying to find her place in the world. With its clear rules, structure and, at the same time, rejection of deep personal relationships, the corporate space is a way for Cassandra to dissociate from her own unrewarding life. When talking to her colleagues, Cassandra realizes that she is Wing’s longest serving employee. To make sure she got the dates right, Cassandra checks her Instagram account that serves as a kind of visual diary marking her “life on the fly”. 


Zero Fucks Given is a feature debut by the director and screenwriter team Emmanuel Marre and Julie Lecoustre. It celebrated its world premiere as part of the International Critics’ Week at the 2021 Cannes IFF. Previously, Marre and Lecoustre worked together on the medium-length Castle to Castle (D’une chateau l’autre) that received the 2018 Pardino d’oro Prize in the Pardini di domani section of the Locarno IFF. In a broader context, Marre and Lecoustre are still largely unknown but Zero Fucks Given puts them firmly on the map, even if it is still just in the international festival circuit. Marre and Lecoustre decided that they would work with a small team and in an authentic environment. They agree that in their directing style, vulnerability that moves the viewer is more important than technical precision and control. 


Images of 21st-century young women 


Zero Fucks Given is not simply a voyeuristic examination of a flight attendant’s life but it is also a portrait of a young woman who, for various reasons, refuses to take responsibility for her own life.


In the way she views herself and her existence, Cassandra has something in common with Marion from My Night (Ma Nuit, dir. Antoinette Boulat, 2021) and with Julia from The Worst Person in the World (dir. Joachim Trier, 2021). All three share a certain sense of helplessness in navigating their life. Julia is captured in different periods of her life, while we only see a slice of life in Cassandra’s story that, according to available information and clues, spans quite a long time. The protagonist of Zero Fucks Given does not keep looking for new stimuli and jobs that would fulfill her and she does not approach her life as a project. Instead, she apathetically keeps the same job and the same hobbies without ever reflecting on her emotions. Cassandra does not seem unhappy or depressed; her attitude to life is rather to shrug, and to declare: “Whatever will be, will be.” We should remember, though, that Cassandra has no idea of what should be because she is stuck and does not believe that her life could take a different path.


In summer 2022, European airports had to deal with travel restrictions and the continuing impact of Covid 19, there was a lot of chaos and many flights were delayed or canceled due to staffing shortage at airports and in low-budget airlines. Zero Fucks Given can also be seen from a slightly different angle than before. In one scene, men on strike at the airport are trying to convince Cassandra and her colleagues that they should join the strike because they also deal with unsuitable work environment and conditions. Cassandra replies that she doesn’t believe in change and that she doesn’t care either way because she has no idea what tomorrow brings. It is one of the few scenes in which Cassandra speaks authentically as herself. In contrast, when she goes back home to Belgium, she presents an improved version of her hectic life. 


No personal life in the clouds


Marre and Lecoustre mount a clear-cut, even if subtle critique of the conditions at low-budget airlines. Using individual scenes and images, they capture a world where employees are not allowed to bring any emotions they might feel (especially those labeled as unhappy) and they become a smiling mascot for the company they represent. Differences between Cassandra’s work environment and personal life are highlighted by the camera work and color palette. Cassandra’s private life is shown in warmer hues, she has no makeup, and she is much more vulnerable than in the uniform that has a somewhat dehumanizing quality.


At the end of the film, Cassandra has a successful job interview and joins a private airline based in Dubai. The interview is conducted online and has all the stereotypes associated with work interviews. We can see Cassandra’s professional demeanor and her knowledge of the environment, especially in her replies that are very proactive and extremely customer oriented. In some respects, the interview seems to go too far, for instance, when Cassandra is asked to walk before the camera or when she tackles a hypothetical situation involving sexual harassment, and the airline manager corrects Cassandra that customers are, in fact, guests.


In the final scene, Cassandra along with other tourists is watching the famous Dubai Fountain, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pity. The new job does not make things better for Cassandra. On the contrary, now she has completely lost her essence and spark. All that is left is her smile, efficient problem solving for millionaires, Tinder and hotel rooms. Ultimately, it is this compelling portrayal of the protagonist’s mental state that makes Zero Fucks Given a remarkable first feature and that makes Marre and Lecoustre filmmakers worth watching.


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