There have been a few tweets comparing Workforce to Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, and they’re not wrong. No, it’s not the high-octane barnburner that Bong’s film is, nor does it juggle as many tonal contours. David Zonana’s film is more sedate and realist in nature, though it does tackle similar themes like the bitterness of class warfare, the desperation of the poorer classes to get ahead by any means necessary, and the way capitalism’s insidious demands can make even the morally-conscious members of our society behave less ethically. Both are also home invasion films, but Workforce plays on the genre somewhat more cleverly because the home in question is still being constructed, and the chief invader is a labourer named Francisco who wants to enact his revenge on his bosses. His brother, Claudio, has just been killed in an accident and Claudio’s pregnant widow is denied compensation because the official report concludes that the dead man had been drinking. Francisco swears that his brother never drank, but no one seems to care. Desperate for retribution, Francisco takes it upon himself to commandeer the very house Claudio died trying to build, immediately climbing several rungs of the social ladder as he trades his weather-beaten shack for a comfy bed and sparkling new furnishings.
What results is one of the more satisfying character studies I’ve seen at the festival. The way Zonana sculpts Francisco to become a decidedly less sympathetic antihero is done through a patiently hewed cascade of shifting gradations, all of which move towards a final act of moral bankruptcy that ends the film with jolting swiftness. A man who once held our sympathies becomes almost worse than the people who mistreated him because he chooses to stoop to their dishonest means in order to attain what he desires. But Zonana, much like Bong, is also cognizant of the overarching factors of this Greek-like tragedy and emphasizes the systemic inequality that turns Francisco into the crafty and deeply flawed Machiavellian that he becomes. No one is free of fault here, with the chief villain being a society that continually exploits the working class and does not provide them with the adequate means to get ahead.
With Zonana’s clean sense of framing, particularly with regards to the house’s layout and architecture, as well as Luis Alberti’s suitably enigmatic performance as Francisco, Workforce is one of those unassuming works that manages to creep up on you, sending a powerful wallop through your insides as more and more of its surprises are revealed.
Workforce received its world premiere at TIFF in the Platform programme on September 9, 2019.