Bearing a title that’s more-or-less been adopted as a mantra by the new generation, Zero Fucks Given‘s mockumentary-meets-mumblecore approach to a functionally wayward twentysomething flight attendant works swimmingly, at least for the first half. Directors Julie Lecoustre and Emmanuel Marre’s fragmented screenplay affords Adèle Exarchopoulos another opportunity to command the screen in a movie that amounts to a series of vignettes. No matter the setting, however, her character Cassandre is mostly reticent, stone-faced in her approach to life and her devotion to work despite its unstimulating nature.
Cassandre is a flight attendant. You get the feeling that being subservient to people and checking her emotions at the gate were the primary selling points for her to take the job in the first place. She’s an attractive but withdrawn Belgian woman, who looked to the skies after her mother died in a car accident. Wing Airlines, her employer, is a low-budget airline, but even on the smaller-than-average jets, she adjusts to the cramps and sucks up the often dehumanizing situations the job asks of her.
Cassandre’s job means every day she finds herself in a different country, which affords her the opportunity to experience vastly different types of nightlife with a new Tinder date each time. She’s nomadic insofar that she spends so little time at home that you start to associate the plane or the airport itself as her home. What she lacks in meaningful experiences, she makes up for in Instagram posts, sometimes resorting to checking her posts to see when exactly she was last on the ground.
Olivier Boonjing’s cinematography casts a dreamlike haze over Zero Fucks Given, personifying Cassandre’s own mental fog in a sense. Even at night, the haziness persists. The only time the visual hypnosis seems to wan is when the film opts for a cold and clinical look inside Cassandre’s intensive work procedures, such as when her and several other (predominately) women are being groomed to be flight managers. A four-minute, static shot shows us each of them looking directly into the camera, reciting a greeting to their passengers, and then staring, smiling for 30 uninterrupted seconds. If some of the women’s gestures or line-delivery is seen as subpar, they’re then grilled by their unseen manager. Despite having the aesthetic of a training video, these scenes have their own kind of mesmerizing quality that forces you to observe the finer details.
Flight attendants are a relatively underserved breed when it comes to being portrayed in movies. They have the frequently thankless task of having to deal with the general public after/during the most unglamorous part of their vacation or business trip. In an increasingly hostile social environment only compounded by the pandemic, they’re prone to verbal lashings and sometimes assault, moreso than even traditional restaurant servers.
Zero Fucks Given suggests for some flight attendants like Cassandre, while work might not be personally fulfilling, it’s a lifestyle that allows them to work comfortably within strict parameters and preparing for situations long before they even occur — with little margin for air.
It’s the second that makes the near-two hour film become far too ponderous. Cassandre finds herself stuck in Brussels with her father and sister and forced to assimilate back into the life she couldn’t wait to see thousands of feet beneath her. The film runs out of gas, in part because Lecoustre and Marre aren’t quite sure how to ground their airborne character like they desire. They admirably don’t want to teach her a lesson, but they also fail to concretize what should be the most direct scenes. Moments between Cassandre and her father feel inaccessible due to the improvised script.
Despite shortcomings, Adèle Exarchopoulos shines yet again, after having one of the most unloved performances last year in Quentin Dupieux’s screwball comedy Mandibles. Worth noting: much of the cast of Zero Fucks Given is comprised of real-life flight attendants. Alexandre Perrier, who plays Cassandre’s father, is one of the film’s producers as well. This is a promising first-time feature collaboration from Lecoustre and Marre, whose future projects should be even more compelling, if refined a bit.
NOTE: Zero Fucks Given is now streaming on Mubi for free — you just need to create an account.
Starring: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Alexandre Perrier, Mara Taquin, Arthur Egloff, and Tamara Al Saadi. Directed by: Julie Lecoustre and Emmanuel Marre.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!