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New on Netflix: The Measure of a Man

written by rick September 16, 2016
New on Netflix: The Measure of a Man

With his expression of thoughtful weariness and a face that inevitably brings to mind the word “hangdog,” Vincent Lindon owns every moment of Stéphane Brizé’s recession-era morality play The Measure of a Man (La loi du marché). As protagonist Thierry Taugourdeau, Lindon, who won Best Actor at Cannes and a César for his performance, is expertly nuanced in the role, frequently silent but always comprehensible, a downtrodden Everyman. He’s a fundamentally decent man forced into awkward and uncomfortable social positions, bruised by the ruthless machinations of capitalism while trying to do right.

The Measure of a Man opens with Thierry in tense conversation with a job recruiter. Laid off from his previous factory position, Thierry has been out of work for many months, taking training courses that lead nowhere, suffering through interviews for jobs he clearly knows he will not get. The frustration is showing.

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His former coworkers, similarly laid off for a “downsizing” they rightly suspect has more to do with corporate profit than workplace necessity, have lawyered up, but Thierry is tired of this fight. He has a wife, a mortgage, a disabled son, and dwindling savings. He’s less out for the satisfaction of legal revenge than simply stable employment and the self-worth it seems that entails. Indeed, as he begs off the struggle against his old bosses, he explains it succinctly: it threatens his “mental health.”

As Thierry dutifully pursues options — a horrifically uneasy Skype interview, a meeting with a no-nonsense financial advisor, a cringe-inducing roundtable discussion to improve his “presentation” and job prospects — cinematographer Eric Dumont keeps him in shallow focus. It’s a smart choice, all the better to observe the naturalistic flickers of anxiety that cross Lindon’s face, while the camera underscores them with nervous, near-vérité quivers itself. Comparisons to the Dardennes are warranted (indeed, The Measure of a Man would work well paired with 2 Days, 1 Night), but Brizé, Dumont, and Linton have separate qualities to recommend their work here.

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When he finally does land a gig as an underpaid security guard at a grocery store, The Measure of a Man takes a decisive turn, from humanist, Dardennes-inspired narrative to social critique. Thierry has far more in common with the petty thieves, struggling shoplifters, and exploited co-workers just trying to get by than he does with the bosses who pay him a pittance to rat them out. Brizé emphasizes the total surveillance of the supermarket, the ubiquity of cameras making it seem less a place of business than a prison. A reckoning is coming.

When it does, it is, like the film as a whole, a decidedly understated affair. But the message, never hammered polemically but emerging with sad inevitability from Lindon’s performance, is clear enough. The film’s French title translates as “the law of the market.” For anyone caught up in the moral compromises and routine degradation of late capitalism, it will come as no surprise that this law is merciless. Whoever it benefits, it’s not the workers. When Thierry makes his decision — quietly but resolutely — it’s a declaration of allegiance, to human value and self-worth outside the artificial demands and draconian restrictions of bosses everywhere.

Quick Links

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Y Tu Mama Tambien: Alfonso Cuarón’s feature debut remains his most satisfying film, hilarious and melancholy by turn, and sexy throughout. The central cast is wonderful, with a standout performance from a young Gael García Bernal, the pacing is ideal, and the undertones of political discontent and social concern add gravity to the proceedings. This is a film that combines coming-of-age tropes with social concern in wise ways and with an assured touch. It succeeds as a road movie too, but the film’s anxious heart is with its protagonists, uneasily growing up in changing times but entirely relatable.

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