The Measure of a Man

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
The Measure of a Man
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Life is tough for Thierry Taugourdeau (Vincent Lidon). He lost his skilled job, cannot find anything comparable, and has a special needs son, Matthieu (Matthieu Schaller). He, and many others in France, face a cold and monolithic bureaucracy that provides little to no comfort for the people, testing “The Measure of a Man.”

Robin:
This film by writer/director Stephane Brize and co-writer Olivier Gorce hit very close to home for me. 12 years ago, I was laid off from my hi-tech job and faced a world where my competition was half my age and three times smarter – basically, I was unemployable in a world I worked in for 30 years. (Fortunately, I found a job doing something I love so I have not worked a day in over a decade.) I identify with Thierry’s plight.

The French bureaucracy, when faced with so many out of work skilled laborers, solves the problem by retraining those unemployed in a different field. For Thierry, he received training as a crane operator. Great, right? There is one problem that he and others in the same boat must face: you cannot get a job in your new field of training unless you have experience. Plus, due to the extra financial burden of his special needs son, Thierry is so desperate he takes a job as a security guard in a supermarket chain.

Thierry, and those around him suffering the same economic upheaval, is the microcosm of French society following the 2008 fiscal disaster that struck worldwide. Vincent Lidon is excellent (what else could one expect) as the put upon family man who, as a security guard, must treat shoplifters, in worse straits than he, as criminals – even an elderly pensioner caught stealing meat to have something to eat. It is a demeaning world where, because of corporate greed, the down trodden must trod upon those even more badly off. Lidon garners great sympathy and, for me, even greater empathy for the working class guy.

“The Measure of a Man” is a timely treatise on what the world has become following the financial crisis of 2008 through the eyes of one man. It is a story of survival at a time when the cards are stacked against too many. I give it a B+.

Laura:
After twenty years, machine tool worker Thierry Taugourdeau (Vincent Lindon, "Friday Night," "Welcome") lost his job to cheaper overseas labor.  With only nine months before his benefits are cut to 500 Euros a month, Thierry is desperate to get a job, especially given the care he must provide for special needs son Matthieu (Matthieu Schaller).  Cowriter (with Olivier Gorce, "Work Hard, Play Hard")/director Stéphane Brizé ("Mademoiselle Chambon") follows the dehumanizing experience Thierry faces at every turn as society devalues "The Measure of a Man."

Brizé's deeply felt film is the best Dardenne Brothers movie the Dardennes had nothing to do with, the flip side to "Two Days, One Night."  Lindon, who won Best Actor at Cannes for his performance, has never been better, working with non-professional actors to illuminate one man's soul.

Everywhere Thierry turns, the deck is stacked against him.  He gets an employment counselor (Yves Ory) to admit that the crane operator training he invested so much time in should never have been offered to him, no one willing to hire a man who'd never set foot in a construction site, but it's a hollow victory.  An awkward job interview over Skype offers hope before dashing it.  A meeting with a bank manager who is ostensibly trying to help him finds him harassed about selling his family's apartment, one with less than 5 years of payments left, and advised to buy life insurance.  In attempting to sell their vacation mobile home, the buyer belittles its worth.  An interview workshop finds Thierry's classmates all too willing to criticize his body language, amiability and dress, only positive about his audibility.

Then, finally, Thierry finds work as security for a big box store.  The store's manager (Saïd Aïssaoui) is almost affectionate singing the praises of a twenty year veteran who's retiring.  But soon reality sets in.  Not only are the shoplifters caught all too easy to empathize with (shades of Ramin Bahrani's "99 Homes"), but Thierry learns he's to keep an eye on the cashiers, management hoping for turnover to cut down on expenses.  Their crimes include reusing discount coupons and scanning their rewards cards when customers forget their own, minor offenses treated with such humiliating severity tragedy ensues.  Corporate HR comes in to point out that no one should feel guilt about the person 'who no one really knew' and whose son was on drugs.

Brizé chose documentary cinematographer Éric Dumont and the handheld, docudrama style fits his subject, the camera making Thierry its primary focus even when other characters speak.  Each episode of Thierry's unrelenting struggle is captured in long, unedited takes.  The obstacles he faces are only broken up twice, once during a family dinner with wife and son, another a dance lesson with an encouraging instructor, a bit of joy for a middle-aged man still willing and able to learn.  Brizé foreshadows the next generation's inheritance, a teacher's meeting over Matthieu's failing grades an echo of Thierry's first scene.

"The Measure of a Man' poses an important question - what are we losing as humans in a world that champions financial profit above all?  The inability to sell one's own capabilities is thinning the herd.

Grade:  A-
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