French drama The Measure of a Man depicts the existential hell of both unemployment and employment.
The film portrays the grim life of retrenched middle-aged factory worker Thierry (Vincent Lindon) as he diligently but unsuccessfully searches for work, enduring constant knock-backs and worthless advice from his employment counsellor. With debts for his disabled son’s care mounting, he takes a job as a supermarket security guard spying on customers and staff. The job relieves financial pressure but poses profound moral concerns for Thierry.
Filmed in a low-key cinema verite style with hand-held cameras, sparse settings and minimal editing, the film largely consists of long, tense and awkward confrontations as Thierry is interrogated by bank and government employees then interrogates suspected thieves himself.
Despite its no frills aesthetic, the film doesn’t feel entirely realistic as Thierry is depicted as a Job or even Sisyphus-like figure constantly subjected to devastating disappointments. Director and writer Stéphane Brizé has clearly been influenced by Ken Loach in his depiction of a callous capitalist society that does everything it can to squash the little guy. Loach, however, manages to leaven his grim poverty-stricken worlds with convincing humorous touches and enjoyable character quirks, none of which are present here.
Whether The Measure of a Man is a confronting and visceral depiction of working class life in a faltering western economy or simply an exercise in sustained misery bordering on paranoia will depend on audience members’ tolerance for cinematic depictions of human torment.
Undeniable, though, is the quality of Lindon’s performance as he quietly but powerfully conveys barely suppressed rage at the heartless and dysfunctional capitalist machine to which he is forced to bow. With camera pointed squarely at him for most of the film, however, the supporting players don’t get much of a look in and Thierry’s wife (Karine de Mirbeck) is a strangely peripheral figure who barely speaks.
The Measure of a Man is an often powerful and for anyone who has dealt with employment bureaucracy, relatable drama but it’s slow pacing and relentless gloominess will make it tough going for some audiences.
Nick’s rating: ***.
Director(s): Stephane Brize.
Release date: 30th June 2016.
Running time: 91 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
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