Set amidst the economic crisis, Vincent Lindon portrays the beleaguered lead role of Thierry, a recently unemployed factory worker vying to secure a new job to provide for his wife (Karine de Mirbeck) and disabled son (Matthieu Schaller). With a handful of unsuccessful applications and dead end courses – he starts to get desperate, willing to take almost anything he is given to make ends meet. He’s reluctant to sell his house though, but with his son’s potential college and personal assistance fees, he realises he is going to have to act soon.
Lindon, the only truly recognised actor within this production, is back with a bang (and a moustache), with yet another absorbing display. He has so much natural charisma and screen presence, and yet can make himself seem so ordinary, as a dignified, working-class man who can just blend into the background. He’s been blessed with a nuanced creation too, and is supported by an accomplished filmmaker in Brizé, who shows such a commitment to realism within this endeavour – even extending to the dialogue between the characters, as they speak over one another, just as we do in real life. Such an approach injects so much authenticity into proceedings, albeit somewhat difficult to follow when watching a subtitled production.
But it’s the way Brizé thrives in the monotonous aspects of life, lingering desperately on situations we all begrudgingly have to face in reality. The way the interviews and conversations are prolonged, we feel Thierry’s anguish and how his patience is tested. It does work two ways though, as while triumphantly highlighting the tedium of the protagonist’s life, it also makes for a tedious experience for the viewer at times. It’s the whole point, and that’s to be appreciated, but it still doesn’t make for a particularly gratifying cinematic experience. We go to the cinema so we don’t have to worry about our forthcoming meetings with the bank, or that job interview we may have on the horizon, to leave behind all of that baggage we carry around with us all day. Now we’ve got to endure it on the big screen too. Yipee.
But the film keeps you on side – and much of that is in the fact there are no palpable antagonists, circumstance is the true villain here. In that regard, The Measure of a Man shares a similarity with The Bicycle Thieves – where people do bad things, they make reprehensible mistakes – but you never dislike them, instead always sympathising with their situation, and pitying them. Here are desperate people doing desperate things – and as bleak as that may sound, it sure does make for an intriguing piece of cinema.