Film Review | The Measure of a Man Shows its Cannes Calibre with Powerful Social Commentary

It’s a coincidence that following Ken Loach’s Palme D’Or win at Cannes for I, Daniel Blake, a film The Guardian describes as “a man strangled by the red-tape of the benefits system”, another Cannes winner dealing with similar issues from the previous year is finally released.  Stéphane Brizé’s The Measure of a Man stars Vincent Lindon (Best Actor at Cannes 2015) as Thierry, a man eighteen months without work. Having completed an employment support program in crane operating, he is told that he is unemployable due to lacking building site experience. On his monthly €500 unemployment benefit he struggles to provide for his family, particularly his son with special needs. The family are forced to sell off much of their possessions (their caravan in a key scene) while Thierry scrambles for work.

The Measure of a Man is in the IFI from Friday 3rd June. -
The Measure of a Man is in the IFI from Friday 3rd June. Source

The film’s documentary-like feel contributes tremendously to its portrayal of economic recession victims struggling to reintegrate into the workplace.  Its long-static scenes, consisting of repetitive and awkward conversations between Thierry and bank lenders or potential employers (often set among dreary, boring settings), capture authentically a feeling of monotony, boredom and restlessness. Like the best films, it doesn’t tell the audience through words what Thierry is going through. It instead shows them through its matter-of-fact presentation of events. For ninety minutes, one feels completely immersed in the film’s central character’s woes.

I criticised the recent film Court for using similar tactics to portray the social issues it was raising. In the case of that movie, I felt that in constructing its static and clinical atmosphere, it neglected to craft engaging characters. The difference between Court and The Measure of a Man is Vincent Lindon, who adds real soul and a beating heart to the latter. The actor, reported to having received a five-minute standing ovation at Cannes for his role, during the scenes in which he is on the job hunt personifies world weariness. He speaks little within the film but when he does, his words are not what is important. It’s his body language which is often explaining to the audience his inner conflict.

Brize adds these brief and fleeting scenes of Thierry with his family, which provide a momentary respite from the film’s suffocating (in a good way) atmosphere. Lindon’s posture completely changes during these scenes. His shoulders become more relaxed and his craggy eyes brighten. Again, through its use of the “show, don’t tell” school of thought, the film tells us all we need to know about the love Thierry shares for his family and the lengths he is willing to go to in order to provide for them.


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There is also a humour to the film, part gallows, part absurdist. An example early on in the film is when Thierry, as part of his employment support program, is recorded doing a mock interview. Upon viewing, his class judge him cruelly on his performance. Having suffered through eighteen months of unemployment worry and stress, he is forced to put on a straight-face while his class-mates describe his diction as “limp” and that he looks like he is “hiding something”.

As the film moves into its second half, it broadens its scope through interesting means from a tale of one man affected by the recession to all of society. Thierry finds work as a security guard in a supermarket, a place which becomes a microcosm for society. Everyone, rich or poor, old or young, need to shop and Thierry’s job places him as an observer to this. Not only does he witness his managers’ interrogation of shoplifters (one young and foreign, another old and French), he also has to watch his fellow employees of many different backgrounds be punished for taking customer tokens and points. As well as this, the reason the supermarket is cracking down on these crimes is because the managers are under pressure to gain greater profits. Brize subtlety and skilfully links all these elements together not only to create a sense of Thierry’s growing embarrassment and dissatisfaction with the job but a portrait of a damaged society.

Tough and uncompromising but intelligent and human, The Measure of a Man is an engrossing social drama with a captivating central turn by Vincent Lindon.  

The Measure of a Man is in cinemas from Friday 3rd June.


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