Buzz words like globalization, recession or underemployment are never spoken in Stephane Brizé’s “The Measure of a Man.” But even without saying as much, the film might make for one of the most powerful statements about the new world economy, one that has quickly displaced older middle-class laborers and given them little hope for recovery and readjustment.
Through Vincent Lindon’s passive, stoic everyman Thierry Taugourdeau, we can see the forces of this corporate climate. Since Thierry takes relatively few actions of his own, Brizé isolates and elucidates the ways in which he is acted upon by the system. There’s a marked contrast between the manner of his layoff, done however brutally in person with a human touch, and the frustrating process of getting hired elsewhere, carried out over Skype by people who remain faceless to the audience.
After time passes – apparently several months, which Brizé effortlessly elides – Thierry winds up in an entirely different profession altogether. No longer is he contributing physical products to the market with his labor. Thierry instead takes a job in security at a supermarket, creating nothing and simply protecting the financial interests of those perpetuating a system in which he must flail to stay above water.
Further, his surveillance efforts cover not only the customers but also the company’s own employees. Each group provides their own unique challenges in approaching and reprimanding, though confronting his colleagues requires an exceptional level of composure. Thierry understands the impulses that lead them to cut corners, and it leads to conflict. That conflict does not take place in the narrative, however, in a way that might push him towards an explosive plot point or climax. It simply occurs in his psyche, torn between what provides for his family and what is just.
Brizé does not turn this strife into an opportunity to push an agenda with “The Measure of a Man.” The film first and foremost observes, understands and empathizes as it exposes just how fragile the foundations are for the modern working class. And, by implication, he challenges us to ask ourselves if we are comfortable with this arrangement as a society. B+ /