When you tear someone down to nothing, you find out who they really are. That at least seems to be French director Stéphane Brizé’s motto in The Measure of a Man. Throwing a barrage of obstacles in Vincent Lindon’s path, he’s presented with a final test to see just what kind of guy he really is in this quietly effective drama.
We first meet Thierry (Lindon) remonstrating with an employee at the job centre. Out of work, he’s spent several months on a crane operator course only to find out no one will hire him without practical experience. He’s furious this fact had not been made clear beforehand. The poor guy sitting opposite can only agree this was an oversight. With a disabled son at home who needs an expensive full-time carer if he’s to fulfil his dream and go off to study, Thierry is desperate to find another job.
Brizé puts him through his paces at a leisurely tempo, shooting a series of long scenes capturing his routine. He’s spotted seeking a loan from the bank, attending a dance class with his wife and sitting down for a family dinner in which they try to unravel a riddle their son heard the day before. He even conducts a Skype interview in which his CV is insulted and he’s informed that his chances are next to none.
Thierry takes it all on the chin, plodding slowly forward to provide the income his family needs. He gets angry but never explosive, he looks frustrated but not defeated. The film works mainly because of Lindon. He’s perfect in the role, a passive rock that refuses to bow. All the flak coming his way is deflected with good grace. Slumped slightly forward, there’s something magnetic about this bear of a man. One sigh from Lindon tells a thousand stories.
Optimism pays off when he gets a job working security for a supermarket. He strolls around the store, mans the cameras and stands in when shoplifters are caught. There’s a particular push to expose staff engaged in wrong-doing, part of a plan to find means for dismissal. Having set Thierry up through his earlier struggles, he now has a moral dilemma placed in front of him, the chance to finally get the measure of the man.
It’s also the weakest part of the film. The first half has a slow lived-in feel, revealingly convincing in its portrayal of a man trying to find his way back into life. But Brizé is out to test him, and the sections in the supermarket start to drag ahead of the final exam. It’s too long a pause before the emotional punchline arrives. Everything else holds up well though.
The Measure of a Man is not flashy. It prefers to sit in the corner quietly doing its own thing. With a stellar performance from Lindon and a collection of strong scenes, it ultimately does it rather well.
Director: Stéphane Brizé
Writers: Stéphane Brizé, Olivier Gorce
Stars: Vincent Lindon
Runtime: 93 min