‘The Measure of a Man’ mirrors working class life

Pierre Lescure, Frédérique Bredin, Christophe Rossignon, Stéphane Brizé, Vincent Lindon and Thierry Frémaux at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

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Pierre Lescure, Frédérique Bredin, Christophe Rossignon, Stéphane Brizé, Vincent Lindon and Thierry Frémaux at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

Stephen Spoth, Contributing Writer

“The Measure of a Man” is about as concise and quiet as a film can be. There is no music running behind moments of joy and despair. There is no ambitious cinematography to discuss when the credits arrive. It is completely uninterested in frills, leaving the viewer immersed in a reality numbingly close to our own.

Director Stéphane Brizé tackles the tensions and problematic moralities of the current economic climate through a series of restrained, documentary-style glimpses into the life of a family man looking for work. Thierry (Vincent Lindon), is a humble and hardworking individual seeking employment to support his family. Thierry tries to maintain his integrity and self worth in a society determined to strip it from him through taxing job applications and work environments.

Perhaps the film’s most striking quality is its determination to explore the murky ethics we face in our daily lives. While a significant portion of mainstream cinema continually widens the gap between good and evil, this movie challenges its audience to see all sides. A customer steals two grocery items because he has no money left, but he needs to survive. The result? Jail. The film challenges traditional notions of ethics and morality’s relation to the law.

Lindon, who won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for the role, gives the audience a beaten down but accessible protagonist to latch onto. He desperately tries to appease the people around him, but in the process loses his dignity. As situations at work grow increasingly caustic, Thierry feels more invisible and seems to uncomfortably recede into the background, torn between his own values and the necessity of his employment.

It is here that the film’s greatest flaw lies: in becoming more and more invested in its thematic ideas, it nearly abandons Thierry in the final half hour. While it proceeds to dissect the merciless nature of institutions and the constant condemnation that our society perpetuates, it forgets that it has a protagonist who we’ve already become attached to. He stands silently in the corner while events unfold, and really doesn’t go anywhere from there. Even the film’s subplots receive no resolution.

Nevertheless, the film is worth watching for its startlingly insightful commentary on contemporary life. One scene features Thierry getting feedback from a panel regarding a mock interview he gave. In the interview, he comes across as friendly and polite, but the reaction comments are relentless and abusive. Thierry sits through it silently, taking the blows.

Another scene features his son being told by a counselor that his grades aren’t high enough to get into college, because he failed a test. His son insists that he’s working hard. These scenes make unsettling jabs at the way humanity is so capable of criticizing and judging without understanding. They’re trying their best and it’s never, ever enough.

“The Measure of a Man” is screening as part of New York Film Festival and will premiere in U.S. theaters in 2016.

Email Stephen Spoth at [email protected]