The Measure Of A Man (NYFF 2015)
“The idea was to bring Vincent Lindon to uncharted waters in terms of his acting.” That’s director Stéphane Brizé describing the main reason behind using non-professional actors alongside the French veteran for his latest little slice-of-life film, The Measure of a Man. Slice-of-strife is more like it, as the story follows Lindon’s Thierry Taugourdeau, an everyman struggling with unemployment and an increasing sensation that his humanity is being eroded in the process. It’s Brizé’s third time working with Lindon, and first time working with DP Eric Dumont, whose previous work was solely on documentaries. Thanks to this naturalistic environment, the cinéma vérité style with the camera constantly following and observing Thierry, and the actor’s familiarity with the director; the weighted resonance in The Measure of a Man oscillates entirely from Vincent Lindon. The film may be little in terms of scale, but the performance at its centre is massive beyond measure.
Lindon disappears into Thierry so completely that he overpowers every other aspect of the film. The sole exception is perhaps Brizé’s and Olivier Gorce’s naturalistic screenplay, which teems with the kind of verbal exchanges that softly tighten the squeeze around a man’s soul. We follow Thierry in the middle of arguments, salvaging whatever pride he’s got left while talking to ex-colleagues from the factory that’s made him redundant. Sitting through partially-humiliating and demoralizing Skype interviews. Getting dissected like a frog in a lab by fellow job seekers, only to hear how none of his organs are functioning. We see him spending time at home with his wife and son, or enjoying a bit of dancing, and our hearts sink lower and lower at the hardships this good man is forced to endure because of an inhumane, profit-driven, system. Thierry finally does get a job, which brings a whole new type of moral challenge.
The kettle is boiling, that piercing whistle grows louder and louder, and it’s impossible to switch off. That’s what Lindon manages to convey through every pore in The Measure of a Man, one of the most depressing films of the year because of how realistic and immediately relevant it feels. The dedication on display by Lindon is let down by Brizé’s handling of the third act, wherein the climactic buildup isn’t nearly as gripping as anything that occurs in the first half of the film, while Thierry desperately searches for a new vocation. This is due to the stylistic choice of keeping Lindon mostly off-screen or on the side for the last half hour, hammering the point that the film is at its best whenever the camera is on Thierry. Those “uncharted waters” Brizé mentions earned Lindon a welcomed Best Actor award at Cannes, and important subject matter notwithstanding, it’s really the biggest reason one should go and seek this film out.
Originially posted on October 11th, 2015 as part of our NYFF coverage.