The Measure of a Man (2016; Stéphane Brizé)
By Daniel Barnes
Impotent resistance versus soul-sucking compliance in the bloody coliseum of capitalism. Human dignity loses either way.
Vincent Lindon won the Best Actor prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival for his work here as Thierry, an unemployed forklift operator and crumpled family man grimacing through the paddle line of an extended job search. It’s a performance of raw restraint, all defiant mustache and desperate eyes. Thankfully, it transcends any cynical notions of festival politics.
Writer-director Brizé portrays the employment application process as a world of nonstop evaluation. A scene where fellow job seekers brutally evaluate Thierry’s posture and personality feels gorier than open-heart surgery. Furthermore, a sense of critical inferiority creeps into every aspect of Thierry’s life, whether in a dance class or in a Craig’s List negotiation.
The opening half of The Measure of a Man is a Calvary of emotional emasculation, but Lindon never betrays Thierry’s taciturn repression. He remains as placid and unknowable to us as to his wife and special-needs child. In the film’s insidious second half, Thierry finds work as a security guard in a fascist grocery store, busting petty criminals and cashiers on the path towards an ethical breaking point.
Brizé favors long takes, natural sound, a simple linear narrative and all the other trappings of the European neo-miserable set. However, there’s also something slightly surreal in the way that Thierry starts stalking shoppers through the store’s litany of security cameras. It’s less ostentatiously natural than the Dardenne brothers, but it’s just as effective.