The French title for Stéphane Brizé’s latest film is ‘Le Loi du Marche’ which, when literally translated, means ‘Market Law’. This title does give a fairly firm grasp on the themes but the title in English, The Measure of a Man encapsulates the film in ways that the French title simply doesn’t. How much can a man swallow his pride and work a job he hates just so he can stay afloat?
Vincent Lindon won the award for Best Actor at this year’s Cannes playing Thierry. We open with him having an interview as a job seeker with what seems to be whatever the French equivalent of Centrelink is. Recently having lost his job as a factory worker, he finds himself in the humiliating position of being unemployed at the age of 51 with a family to feed and meaningful work nowhere to be found.
Making drama out of the everyday plight of an average person doesn’t make for compelling viewing. As commendable as Brizé’s aim for his film is, there were points where the minimal plot and pacing did begin to grate. A maximum amount of patience is required for viewing and even that begins to get tested at particularly slow parts.
However, while the story by Brizé and his co-writer Olivier Gorce is presented as minimally as possible, this is a master class of showing and not telling. The fact that this is the plight of a completely normal worker makes the message all the most compelling. Unlike so many other films, the issue that our main character faces is not unique or particularly rare; it’s a problem that nearly every person living in the developed world has encountered. Cinema is particularly good at creating empathy for your fellow man, and the films that hold the colloquial label “kitchen sink dramas” do this better than many others. Considering that this film comes out at the same time as France faces riots over labour rights, the message is a timely one.
Lindon does an amazing job of expressing emotions through the smallest of gestures. He looks as scruffy as a shaved bear and his voice has a delightfully gruff edge to it. Also worth mentioning is Matthieu Schaller as Thierry’s son, who manages to make dignity and intelligence shine through the fact that he has a significant disability.
The conclusion that we’re left with isn’t an easy one. This is a compassionate look at the plight of the average worker in not only France but most of the developed world. Brizé has crafted a minimally made film with a message that pokes through with clarity; capitalism, as we all know, is a deeply unfair system riddled with exploitation and cynicism. The difficulty that faces those on the lower rungs is something to always keep in mind. Perhaps this is a bit too subtle and nuanced, and to speak plainly: dull, to be a hit with many, but Lindon’s incredibly restrained and subtly angry performance deserves all the plaudits it’s getting.
The Measure of a Man is in cinemas from 30th June through Sharmill Films.