“To be number one in life a man should have three things. Power, money and sex. No one ever has all three.” This is declared in the film by one of the male characters. But what does it mean to be NUMBER ONE for a woman in a corporate world?
The original name of the movie NUMERO UNE is feminine (it would be UN for masculine) and really should be translated LADY NUMBER ONE, but the producers probably thought it too long.
For the main character Emmanuelle (Emmanuelle Devos) to be successful means to realise her potential. Losing her mother in a drowning accident when she was just a child (was it suicide?) she worked hard to build a successful career and never played the feminist card. But as she is offered a position to be the first ever female CEO in the history of France she realises she will not be able to get where she wants to be without some female solidarity.
Struggling with psychological problems, her husband’s tantrums and jealousy and maliciousness of her male colleagues, she navigates her way towards the top and strangely enough manages to stay on track with very little compromise.
If I wanted to assign a certain genre to NUMERO UNE I would call it a drama, although it has elements of a corporate thriller. The strongest point of the film is how genuine it is when the characters and events are concerned. By keeping it real the story never spirals into the extreme and even the baddies show their warm and humane sides.
Director Toni Marshall has “the battle of sexes” thread coming through her many films (read my review to her "LOVE SEX & THERAPY" from French Film Festival of 2014 here), but she is a queen of comedy. NUMERO UNE is a serious film about serious issues, but it never becomes patronising or dull. Emmanuelle Devos is perfectly cast as an elegant but not strikingly beautiful business woman, playing it on the verge of strength and fragility, these two sides of her character are never far apart.
NUMERO UNE is probably the most measured, complete and well acted film I have seen during the French Film Festival this year.