The Measure of a Man
Directed by Stéphane Brizé
Opens April 15
A stressful piece of realism that zeroes in on job-market indignities, the absorbing French film The Measure of a Man follows an out-of-work family man as he scrambles for a foothold in the new economy. Finding his factory-equipment know-how no longer in demand, Thierry Taugourdeau (Vincent Lindon, seen recently in Claire Denis’s nasty Bastards) spends his days in a sort of suspension, trying to brainstorm a way to preserve the status quo (i.e., stay solvent) for his wife (Karine de Mirbeck) and special-needs son (Matthieu Schaller). When the introverted Thierry finds himself at home alone during the day, and the silence becomes particularly deafening, he knows it’s best to just pick up and keep himself busy—after a discouraging courtesy interview via Skype, Thierry gets down to business right away cleaning the tops of the cabinets in the kitchen.
Over the course of The Measure of a Man, director Stéphane Brizé, who co-wrote the script with Olivier Gorce, often just lets conversations play out in all their stubborn logic: Thierry takes in the uncomfortable bottom line from a bank-branch manager, backtracks on the sale of his beachfront mobile home to a hard bargainer, and gets “constructive” criticism from the fellow attendees of a job seminar. The tight-lipped protagonist wears an expression that’s gloomier than he actually is, and the watchful Lindon, who won best actor at Cannes last May for this third collaboration with Brizé, positively sinks into the role—thanks largely to the actor’s close-to-life work, the film often feels almost more aligned with the observational rigor of a Wiseman doc than the close-in naturalism of a Dardenne Bros. fiction.
As a bit of socially minded humanism, The Measure of a Man might leave something to be desired—for one thing, Thierry’s family life never quite comes into focus—but as a portrait of global-capitalist labor as inevitably compromising it works very well indeed. When Thierry does finally find a steady job, there’s no use at all anymore for that highly specialized mechanical skill-set. As a security guard at a discount retailer, he’s charged with patrolling checkout lines and poring over surveillance video to nab shoplifters but also to make sure the employees themselves stay in line—to the enforcer of store policy, literally everyone is a suspect. The company’s new management wants to find ways to cut staff, and Thierry’s tasked with building the case against cashiers who don’t steal outright so much as lightly game the system (one racks up points from customers’ purchases on her own personal loyalty card). The Measure of Man—whose French title, La loi du marché (“The Law of the Market”), comes across as slightly less on-the-nose—ends by asking how strong its protagonist’s self-respect really is. Suffice it to say that as Thierry takes stock of all his interrelated responsibilities—to his family, his employer, and his own principles, as well as the rest of barely-scraping-by humanity—it’s not hard for him to see which is most redundant.