The Measure of a Man
Directed by: Stéphane Brizé.
Written by: Stéphane Brizé & Olivier Gorce.
Starring: Vincent Lindon (Thierry Taugourdeau), Yves Ory (Conseiller Pôle employ), Karine de Mirbeck (La femme de Thierry), Mathieu Schaller (Le fils de Thierry), Xavier Mathieu (Le collègue syndicaliste), Noel Mairot (Le professeur de danse), Catherine Saint-Bonnet (La banquière).
French actor Vincent Lindon has one of those faces that you can tell just by looking at him has seen some stuff. He’s in his late 50s, but looks perhaps a little bit older in The Measure of a Man, Stephane Brize’s film about a factory work who is let go when his factory closes, and at the tail end of his working years, has to try and find a new job. He has a wife, a disabled son, an apartment and lots of bills. He didn’t expect to be in this position – certainly doesn’t deserve to be, but is here anyway. The film opens with him angry at an employment agency bureaucrat. Lindon’s Thierry wants to know why the agency sent him for a 4 month training course on operating a crane, when no employers will hire him since he’s never worked in construction before – and almost every other person in his class was in the same boat. The bureaucrat tries to explain, and backpedal and apologize – before he says that Thierry should think about another course in warehouse management and forklift operation. As he points out to Thierry, his agency just offers the courses – and they do the best they can – but ultimately employers do the hiring.
The first half of The Measure of a Man will see Thierry take many of these meetings – or meetings like them. Sitting down for a job interview via Skype for instance, where he has to listen to someone criticize his resume, and then tell him he has almost no chance to land the job. Or going to some sort of job search workshop, to hear the entire class criticize everything he says and does in a mock interview. Or trying to get a bank loan, just to tithe the family over. Or negotiating the sale of his trailer – the family’s vacation spot – from a man trying to take advantage. When you’re broke and have no money, looks down on you, criticizes you, but then also tells you to keep smiling and be positive. That’s what employers want to see.
The second half of the movie is even better than the first. The film never does show us how Vincent gets a new job – it just cuts to him working it. He is hired as a security guard in what appears to be a Wal-Mart like store. His job is to watch both the customers, to see if they’re stealing, and the cashiers, to see if they’re doing the same. As he tells a new trainee, the management wants more employee turnover – new employees are cheaper than ones who have been there longer, and earned raises, see – so if they can find a reason to get rid of them they will. Vincent attends the same number of meetings in the second half as he does in the first – but more often than not now, he’s quiet, as someone else is being looking down on and yelled at – the teenager who steals a phone charger – but has the money to pay – an old man who steals some food, and doesn’t, which means the police will become involved. And later, a couple of cashiers caught hoarding coupons or swiping their own loyalty cards. Outside of work, he’s getting his life back on track – but has he sold his soul to do it?
Only an actor like Lindon could pull off a roll like Thierry in the film. He (justly) won the Best Actor Prize at Cannes in 2015 for his work in the film, which is brilliant mostly in what he doesn’t do. It’s clear throughout the film that he is frustrated, angry, disappointed, etc. – and yet he can never really show those emotions. That’s not what potential employers want to see, so he sits there and takes all the crap he has shoveled on him. Then, later, he sits there and watches how others have that same crap shoveled on them. The film often films Lindon off center – has him on the edges of the frame, as if he’s disconnected from what’s happening – or how, even in the story of his own life, he’s almost cut out. Lindon finds the perfect expression at every moment.
If the movie were as good as Lindon’s performance, it would be among the best of the year. It isn’t really. It’s a good film – but the style of it calls to mind the Dardennes, in particular, their own recent unemployment film – Two Days, One Night, which had a performance by Marion Cotillard even better than Lindon’s here, and is a better, deeper film all around – it really did notice the people around the lead character, and also doesn’t mess up the end, as The Measure of a Man does. In Two Days, One Night, she accepts what happens, because she knows she needs the job – even though she knows that will mean putting people, who voted for her, out of a job – a morally ambiguous move, but a realistic one. The Measure of a Man wants to have a righteous end that makes us feel good for Thierry – that he’s standing up and taking back his soul. However, given what we’ve seen him go through, it hits a false note.
Overall though, The Measure of a Man is a fine film – with a brilliant lead performance by Lindon. It is well made, well observed – and while it may offer little new, it does what it does quite well.