French director Siegrid Alnoy makes an immediate impression with her debut feature She's One Of Us, an unsettling tale of white-collar paranoia that makes striking use of the geometry of public space. Alnoy moves the camera frequently, favoring a slow vertical pan from ceiling to just above eye level, in compositions that frame her characters among the clean curves and artful zigzags of office parks and shopping centers. The movie's protagonist, a jittery temp played by Sasha Andres, wanders through a sterile environment jammed with vertical lines, which either partition her off from her co-workers or bisect her body, reflecting an increasingly fragmented personality.
For all the smart visual design, though, She's One Of Us is frustratingly clinical. The film follows some of the dream-logic of Robert Altman's 3 Women. Andres starts the story as uncertain and needy: Her hands shake when she enters the company lunchroom, and when her boss at the temp agency mentions that she collects owl figurines, Andres blurts out, "Me too!" Later, Andres gains confidence, and she eventually acquires a handful of sycophants who annoy her in the way she used to be annoying. But while Altman softened his subconscious allegory with naturalistic humor, Alnoy makes even her comic relief a little theoreticallike the exaggerated pair of bumbling cops who show up in the second half of She's One Of Us to investigate a shocking act of violence.
The film's best scenes stay at a lower key, as when Andres stands in a checkout line and marvels at how the woman in front of her can chat so casually with the clerk. Andres later steals their conversation, in another of Alnoy's demonstrations of how her heroineand by extension, all middle-class office workerslearns to be normal by copying. Employees like Andres are so disposable that entire businesses have been built around furnishing replacements. Alnoy makes the same point by having two conversing women stand up and continue talking with their heads out of the frame, and through frequent long tracking shots across neon-lit strip-malls accompanied by heavy breathing on the soundtrack. Though Alnoy keeps the movie so tightly controlled that even the actors' facial expressions look storyboarded, she can't rein in Andres, who seesaws convincingly between gawky vulnerability and icy cruelty. Andres is so much a blank that she can look forgettably plain in one scene and darkly beautiful in the next. She's whatever the people signing her paycheck need her to be.