The Measure of a Man (2015) / Drama
aka La loi du marche
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for language
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Vincent Lindon, Karine de Mirbeck, Matthieu Schaller, Yves Ory
Director: Stephane Brize
Screenplay: Stephane Brize, Olivier Gorce
Review published June 15, 2016
Acclaimed thespian Vincent Lindon (Welcome, Dragon Hunters) and a cast of mainly non-professional actors fill the screen in The Measure of a Man, Stephane Brize's (A Few Hours in Spring, Not Here to Be Loved) realistic look. Lindon, who has now starred in Brize's last three films, plays Thierry, who we find at the beginning of the film unemployed for a year and a half since being laid off from his job as a factory worker, desperate for any form of work in order to make ends meet, with a wife (Mirbeck) and special-needs child (Schaller) to take care of, and an apartment that he's just a few years from paying off. He's trying as best as he can to get back on his feet, but he feels less than himself without a job, such that he's willing to suffer as many indignities as required from a host of potential employers and job center employees who either treat him with apathy, if not belittle him with acute condescension.
To get the realistic look at The Measure of a Man, Brize brings on newcomer Eric Dumont, whose prior experience came as a camera operator in documentaries, to be his cinematographer. Everything is shot as if we're an invisible bystander to the action, which allows us to feel the sense of reality that Brize is bringing to the story, mostly done in unbroken continuous takes for each scene. The screenplay allows for a great deal of natural improvisation on the part of the players, many of whom are in front of the camera for the first time. Scenes are raw and nervous, as we wonder just how Thierry manages to keep his composure under the overwhelming critical gaze of those who persistently judge him because he's hungry to get back to the world of employment, and then is forced into a position himself, taking on a job as a department store security officer, of having to be one of those who must also pass judgment on those without means, or those who are clinging to their low-paying jobs because it is all they have to keep their heads above the rushing waters of financial despair.
We don't just get glimpses of the taciturn Thierry as he tries a variety of means to make himself marketable enough to land a job. We also get scenes of his home life, with his wife who is trying to maintain the semblance of normalcy to her spouse to keep him feeling like he's able to provide, even if it is just emotionally. We also get to know of Thierry's difficulties in dealing with a son with cerebral palsy, who needs special care and attention in the current situation, as well as funding for college in the immediate future, that he can't meet without assistance financially. However, what you won't get is the Hollywood-ization of a man under external stress, much like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, or Andrew Garfield in 99 Homes, which play more like semi-thrillers than realistic depictions of everyday people in mundane lives. The Measure of a Man makes for a better companion piece to the Belgian social drama with Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night, which features a similar situation of a woman who must humiliate herself to retain her means of living, complete with the question as to whether it's really worth the personal agony to live under such a condition of perpetual subservience to the idea that one's current job is the only thing that keeps the rest of our lives intact.
With a brilliant central performance, for which Lindon would take home a Best Actor award at Cannes, and an absorbing cinema verite style, The Measure of a Man provides ninety minutes of thoughtful entertainment that ties together the perceived societal worth of people to their jobs. While it is slow and without ready-made answers to the many problems it displays on the screen, enough to be cautious about giving this film a blind recommendation to anyone who isn't an art-house regular, it does provide an insightful look at what the humiliation that poverty inflicts upon those who are having trouble scraping by in life, whether because they have no work, or because they feel they need to retain their current job at just about any cost. Whether the film wraps you up in its discomforting cinema of niggling degradation, or you remain a distant observer due to its slow and deliberately humdrum delivery (to evoke the soul-sucking nature of Thierry's life at this point), if you come away from it with a new and compassionate perspective on those who are struggling to pay the rent every month, Brize's humanist work can only be considered a resounding success.
©2016 Vince Leo