By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated September 29, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

French workers have a fondness for screwing up the daily routines of their fellow citizens as a form of labor protest — truckers clogging the roads, railway employees going AWOL. But there’s nothing clogged about Human Resources, a compelling, cant-free drama about clashing class systems and challenged family relationships that’s all the more engrossing for its organic, near-documentary style.

Frank (Jalil Lespert), an eager-beaver business-school graduate, interns in the human resources department of the factory he’s known all his young life: His father (Jean-Claude Vallod) has been a machinist there for 30 years. Frank’s connection to his father and the old man’s pride in his son’s upward mobility, however, are at odds with the responsibilities assigned by Frank’s boss and mentor (Lucien Longueville), and the young man soon becomes as snarled in union-versus-management standoffs as motorists are in a truckers’ slowdown.

And yet no Brassed Off speeches by Pete Postlethwaite are needed to sweeten the bitter struggle. Aside from Lespert (Nos Vies Heureuses), the actors are nonprofessionals, gracefully directed by feature first-timer Laurent Cantet. The roles they play are similar to the work they do or would do if they could; many are unemployed, and they don’t let Cantet get away with merde. A-