Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit viff.org and follow VIFF on Twitter at @viffest.
Thematically focused on the notion of dignity, The Measure of a Man is a humanist film in the vein of the Dardenne Brothers, which explores through hand camera cinematography the details of a frustrated man’s life. It measures man’s livelihood in the current business-economic state of society which places capital and commerciality above human qualities.
Thierry (Vincent Lindon) searches for work in system conditioned to frustrate and humiliate the modern man. In a captivating opening scene, he explains how he was recommended to take a course learning how to operate a machine, but that he was later unable to get the job because he had no construction background. He states that most of the students had no construction experience, and asks what the point of it all is. Later, in a Skype interview, his resume is belittled as well as his experiences. Having not learned the newest operating system on a machine he has used for years, he is made to look like a fool. The position offers less pay, which he willingly accepts—another blow to his dignity. Then, as a final slap in the face, he is told that he stands a very slim chance of getting the job.
Dryly satirical in tone, The Measure of a Man deals with this frustration in a highly subtle and effective manner, with Vincent Lindon masterfully portraying Thierry’s growing frustrations. His performance is highly understated, with much body language and little dialogue. He is a man of pride, shown in his unwillingness to negotiate the price of his mobile home beyond what he agreed to. Clearly he finds that giving into unfairness, which surrounds him, is a sign of defeat. The film thus becomes a modern evocation of the discontents of civilization. It is only in his personal life where he may take charge, but in the social world that has developed around him, he is a mere pawn, constantly belittled for his ability to provide, his ability to consume, and his ability to live.
He is not the only one, however. After Thierry gains a position in security for a shopping Centre, he encounters all kinds of people who too are frustrated and belittled. In this case, he deals with shoplifters, but even they seem to deserve some respect. Respect is human. The first shoplifter is a man who downright steals and lies, and he is let of the hook for paying for the product he stole. He has the money and chose to steal, and is now Scott free. The second shoplifter steals meat, but has no money nor friends nor family to help him pay. He is sent to the police. There seems to be something wrong with this system. A man who steals out of hunger and desperation is punished while a man stealing without need is allowed to go. In the next two sequences, employees of the store are caught. The first steals coupons while the second steals points. Both of these actions hurt the store’s accounting, but is it not less significant than stealing properties with physical value? Both are humiliated and fired, leading to the suicide of one.
Reaching the tipping point, Thierry walks out of the store, gets in his car, and drives away. He will not acquiesce to the unfair social norms that exist today. A somewhat nihilistic film, The Measure of a Man studies a character like many others—a man in distress. The dynamic mobile camera is used as an effort to channel his emotions and express the hypocrisy of modern society. While these techniques are not quite as profound as they are in the character studies of the Dardenne brothers, it is somewhat effective, and paints a clear picture of a disgruntled citizen whose dignity is made open for measure.
Somewhat effective, and paints a clear picture of a disgruntled citizen whose dignity is made open for measure.