Workplace bullies face to face


Face to Face (MA). Director: Michael Rymer. Starring: Vince Colosimo, Sigrid Thornton, Luke Ford, Matthew Newton, Lauren Clair, Christopher Connelly, Robert Rabiah. 88 minutes

Director Rymer describes Face to Face — an adaptation of the David Williamson play of the same name — as a 'little film with big ideas'. Central is the idea that conflicts can be better resolved, not by punishment or retaliation, but through dialogue between victims and perpetrators. This allows each to be heard, reveals layers of complexity, and opens up the possibility of mutual empathy.

Face to Face takes place (mostly) within the confines of a single room and the duration of a single mediation session, where ten people have gathered to decide the fate of one angry young man.

Deceptively childlike construction worker Wayne's (Ford) guilt is not in question. He has admitted to assaulting a co-worker, Richard (Connelly), and to ramming the luxury car owned by his former boss, Greg (Colosimo), in a fit of rage over losing his job.

A prison sentence would, clearly, have significant bearing upon Wayne's ability to lead a secure and productive life in the future. The purpose of this session, then, under the direction of seemingly mild-mannered mediator Jack (Newton), is not to mete out blame and punishment, but to resolve underlying conflicts, and reach a mutually agreeable outcome — perhaps a form of restorative justice.

The film's success stems not just from its strong and nuanced performances, but also its confronting and surprising script (Williamson drew upon real-life mediation cases). It excels not just in the dialogue, which, apart from the odd clunky moment, is sharp and authentic, but in the way it teases a thematically layered backstory and character depth out of a single, highly charged group encounter.

What starts out as an ostensibly straightforward scenario — disgruntled former employee expresses his frustration through violence — is shown to be the end result of a cruel and systematic process of workplace bullying. This, we find, in fact stems from a pervasive culture of bullying, which, in turn, is the result of general low morale that has its roots in Greg's business practices and personal foibles.

Wayne is certainly not innocent. But definitions of 'victim', 'perpetrator' and even 'bystander' begin to blur. Lead bully Hakim (Rabiah) turns out to be one of the more sympathetic characters. Affable Richard is gracious towards Wayne, but his passivity emerges as another form of violence. Greg, who has the greatest claim to blame against Wayne, must also confront questions of his own culpability.

This is one of the stronger Australian films of recent years, resembling a modern Australian retelling of the 1957 American classic 12 Angry Men. That film portrayed a jury's slow-boiling deliberations over the case of a young Spanish-American man charged with murder. Class and racial prejudices rise to the surface, but ultimately the film paid tribute to this fundamentally democratic legal process.

Face to Face, too, plumbs a variety of social and ethical issues, and in the end displays great faith not only in the efficacy of mediation as an alternative to legal action, but in human beings' capacity for mercy and grace — if they first make the effort to confront and truly listen to 'the other'.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail. He was a member of the TeleScope jury at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow Tim on Twitter 

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Face to Face, film review, restorative justice



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Existing comments

Tim, another worthy review.
I recall seeing this play on stage a few years ago and being opened to the whole process. Admittedly I attended the performance with a group of people who included Terry O'Connell who is regarded by many as the father of Restorative Justice in Australia.

This film appears to follow the script and so should ensure a powerful experience for viewers.

This restorative approach is not a recent phenomenon. Many ancient cultures have traditions whereby wrong doers are brought before those who have been harmed in ways that allow real dialogue to occur.
Just a couple of questions: what most often happens when someone has done wrong in our society? What is the first question we often ask? Does this question work? Who does all the work when things go wrong? Who sits there and is often a passive observer of proceedings?

Hopefully this film will assist build the growing body of evidence that we need to change the ways our society responds to wrongdoing.

Vic O'Callaghan | 08 September 2011  

Mediation certainly can solve problems in work places more effectively and sensitively than legal action, but what if one or other of the parties is incapable of empathy? After all, the ground rule of mediation is that all parties put themselves in the other person's position.

But what if someone is not actually able to do that? What if they don't have the imaginative social abilities required to see another person's position, either emotionally or rationally? What if they refuse to play the game, or see no point in mediation? Mediation doesn't work then and can be used simply as a way to resolve conflict by other means, i.e. whatever the mediator advises, not what those in the conflict might actually be saying.

Mediation is good, but has its limitations and can even be used to further the agenda of the bully.

Desiderius Erasmus | 08 September 2011  

How would a Canadian get a copy of this video? There are lessons to be learned from this.

Deborah | 20 September 2011  

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