With a cinematic viewpoint that grabs you by the neck up to the shocking finale, Stéphane Brizé’s film seems as strong favourite for this year’s Palme d’Or.
Thierry is one of the 700 workers who, after after being laid off from the factory where he worked, is trying to live off the 500 euros of his unemployment benefit with his family. A year later, he has still not stopped trying: he is participating in state-funded educational programs, which however do not lead to any job, trying in vain to learn how you can give a good interview and impress a prospective employer and he sees his savings running out while he is repaying his mortgage and struggling to get a new loan in order to fund the studies of his handicapped but lively son.
Thierry is your average man. Protected by the confidence of a stable job, he had made a frugal life for himself with comforts tailored to the petty bourgeois class he belonged. With his sudden dismissal, the earth disappeared under his feet, he was confronted with the financial crisis and became one of the contemporary unemployed who for years ignored the real “law of the market”, which is ruled by well-written CVs, competitive performance and a welfare system that fails to protect the weak, abandoning them in a perpetual absurdity of survival.
Thierry will continue trying patiently, with wounded pride and a titanic effort to not allow life get the best of him, pretending that the life of his family can continue normally at any cost, and considering his son’s wellbeing as a non-negotiable priority. He refuses to sell off his few possessions and considers himself lucky for finally getting a job as security staff at a large supermarket.
Divided in sincere vignettes from Thierry’s everyday life, “La Loi du Marché” (“The Measure of a Man”) is a constant struggle of negotiation between humanity and the rigid system – a succession of daily efforts for survival against the financial crisis, the diary of a life that ultimately ends up being the big accounting “mistake” in the inhuman laws of the market.
Every small or big scene (from a family dinner that shows the parents laughing at their son’s joke to the revealing bargain for the sale of a prefab home demonstrating brutally the importance of a few euros) is there to lead to the next. A construction in which Stéphane Brizé (of “Mademoiselle Chambon” here in his most political and definitely the best moment of his rather lowkey career) directs the ethical dilemmas born out of the crisis with the rhythm of human endurance and the cinematic look of the Dardenne brothers, infusing human dignity with melancholy and a clear and stirring dramaturgy. He depicts with hard realism a world in freefall.
Avoiding every melodramatic obstacle, easy social criticism or cheap blaming, Brizé trusts remarkable Vincent Lindon with the role of a modern superhero, placing him in a comic strip that takes place around us or even too close to us and he is not afraid to pose the most crucial questions of our time (“is the man the job he does?” “how low can one go to keep one’s job?”) and to give the most meaningful answers.
This is a film that grabs you by the neck and does not let you go even after the liberating finale. It is clear that “The Measure of a Man”could only be born in a time of financial crisis, but its truth is ultimately timeless, a humanist manifesto – an uncompromising solution for any time in our life.
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