Director Stéphane Brizé Producers Christophe Rossignon, Philip Boëffard Screenwriters Stéphane Brizé, Olivier Gorce Starring Vincent Lindon Country Of Origin France Running Time 93 mins
A director who sees the comedy in the everyday goings on of life – in the divisive social structures and glorified business models and the “striving for excellence” lingo – will always have my time. THE MEASURE OF A MAN exposes the indescribably frustrating barriers that bureaucracy puts up for all us simple folk just trying to buy some milk, eat some bread and get by. And yet our culture – Western/European culture, driven as it is by the market – is enamoured by shiny bureaucracy and regards anyone using an officious register as somehow being in the know, us withering pathetically in comparison and slouching further down into our scruffy coats. If only we could reverse time and erase the series of events that led to sounding and looking serious being held in much higher regard than actually being serious about things. David Cameron would be working at Crufts as a dog walker and Ken Loach would be Prime Minister. Maybe in the future.
THE MEASURE OF A MAN is bittersweet, subtle and heart-warming, even when the outlook is bleak for this recently made redundant man trying to support his wife and disabled son. Brize simply stands with his his camera on the wonderfully humanized face of Vincent Lindon and lets the ridiculousness of life unfold around his ears. Lindon is brilliant as the instantly loveable Thierry who is overbrimming with integrity, honesty and a refusal to be distracted from his true sentiments by – for want of a more sophisticated word, although this seems the perfect place to be obstinately unsophisticated – bullshit.
Anyone who regards the job market as being akin to Fort Knox, both in terms of accessibility and friendliness, will chuckle familiarly at Brize’s parody of job centres, employability workshops and hopeless interviews where you are casually told you have little to no chance of being successful with your application. Other pokes at the establishment include a demonstration of a meticulous surveillance system in a shopping mall from the many cameras’ perspectives, which zoom threateningly in on old ladies sniffing shampoo whilst the voice of the security guard warns Thierry that ‘thieves have no colour or age’, and a scene where Thierry’s entire persona from his tone of voice to his facial expression is dissected around a table while he sits silently in the middle (possibly wondering how he’s going to pay to have his facial features re-constructed to look more amiable for potential employers).
From seeing the way Thierry interacts with others – not just his family but his friends and colleagues and strangers, too – it is not hard to grasp what, in Brize’s opinion, the ‘measure of a man’ is. Through his ongoing struggle to make ends meet, cutting his way through endless red tape and staying silent through ludicrous moments of illogical requirements and company policies, he maintains his dignity. He is able to let go and move on. Although he is marginalised by his society, he doesn’t let resentment control him. And Brize’s simple film matches this dignity by reserving judgement: it’s up to us to draw conclusions.
An enjoyable experience? It’s not exactly a bundle of laughs but it doesn’t yank sadistically on your heart strings either.