In The Measure of a Man, Thierry Taugourdeau (played by Vincent Lindon) is a 51-year-old French factory worker who lost his job 20 long months ago and despite repeated efforts to find new employment he hits one brick wall after another. Included in his endeavours is being sent on a wild goose chase, attending a short course that will never, in a month of Sundays, result in work. This was a man who gave his all to a company for 25 years before he was left on the sidelines because his bosses decided to make the same product in another country with cheaper labour.
So, Thierry isn’t kicked out because he didn’t do his job well, rather because his masters wanted to make more money. He is the tiny face of the unemployment statistics we hear about everyday in the news. Financially, he is sailing very close to the wind. He has a wife and a disabled son in his final year at school. We follow Thierry to the unemployment office, to the bank (and the lecture he receives there) and have a bird’s eye view of a job interview he has via Skype. Through it all, he remains well mannered, even-tempered, quietly spoken and respectful. Suddenly, a position becomes available – that of a security guard in a department store – and Thierry secures it, only very soon it brings him face to face with a moral dilemma. So, the question is just how much is he willing to put up with to keep his job?
Stephane Brize’s (Mademoiselle Chambon) films have always dealt with the intimate. As he sees it, his next step “was to observe the brutality of the mechanisms and exchanges ruling our world by juxtaposing one man’s humanity – a vulnerable man with no job security – with the violence of our society”. Brize wrote the script with Olivier Gorce, someone he’s known for a long time but had not previously worked with. Brize calls him “the ideal travel partner for this project” with very lucid analysis and perspective on social and political themes.
They used non-professional actors, a small crew and limited funding to work with their leading man. Importantly though, the non professional cast assumed roles in the film they had been engaged in in real life, e.g. security guard, banker, staff at the unemployment office, cashier etc. Brize chose to work with a cinematographer who had only made documentaries. He worked with Eric Dumont, a young director of photography, who was barely 30 years old. His instructions to Dumont were to focus upon Thierry’s point of view because he is at the centre of the story. It is whatever Thierry saw and heard that interested Brize. That’s why the character is sometimes shot for a long time, even when he isn’t necessarily the motivating agent in the scene. “I film him like a boxer getting punched without necessarily filming the person punching him,” Brize says.
While Brize and Gorce’s motivation was laudable, after a good set up, the film dragged. Some of the scenes were extremely tedious. Obviously, the idea was for the movie to keep it as “real” as possible. I get that demeaning the lead character (in terms of his treatment by the system) was the way to do this, but once a movie suffers from inertia it is difficult to win back an audience. We see snippets of his life – cinema verite, as I would term it – but I felt Thierry was too respectful. He lacked emotion and engagement. No explosion. No fireworks. Just deathly silence, acceptance … for a long time. I found myself looking at my watch, which – surely – isn’t a good sign.
The Measure of a Man was constituted of the right stuff, but for me failed to make the most of its opportunity to make a difference. Decidedly art-house rather than mainstream, many will be turned off or will tune out. Rated PG, it scores a 6 out of 10.
Director: Stephane Brize
Cast: Vincent Lindon
Release Date: 30 June 2016
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television