In The Measure of a Man fifty-one year old Thierry (Vincent Lindon) is a former factory worker who has been out of work for many months. We watch as he goes through the frustrations and humiliation of training for a new job (that no one will hire him for after the training), job interviews, dealings with his bank, and trying to provide an education for his disabled son.
When he finally gets a job doing security in a big box store, something well below his skill level, he soon finds that he has become a part of the system that dehumanizes others in much the same way he has been treated. This creates a moral dilemma for him. As he deals with shoplifters and other employees who are caught bending rules, he seems to sense that he is not far removed from them. There is a sense of “there but for the grace of God go I.” To what extent is he willing to treat people poorly in order to keep the job that he badly needs?
The Measure of a Man received Special Mention from the Ecumenical Jury at Cannes a year ago “For its prophetical stance on the world of work and its sharp reflection on our tacit complicity in the inhumane logics of merchandising.” (Vincent Lindon also received Best Actor at the festival and in the César Awards in France.) This is a film that is described by director and co-screenwriter Stéphane Brizé as “juxtaposing one man’s humanity . . . with the violence of our society.” But the violence in this film is not of a physical nature. It is instead a kind of emotional and spiritual violence that damages both the victim and those who enforce society’s systemic dehumanization.
The film’s original French title, La Loi du Marché (The Law of the Market) may suggest a broad indictment of the economic system, but I think the film is really more of an attempt to understand how the individual must deal with their place within the system. We all make compromises to fit in to the world and to survive. We may take a job that requires us to do things we find distasteful. Perhaps we might be expected to skirt the law. Is there a sense that we “sell our soul” for the security that comes from a job and its paycheck? Can we say we are “only doing our job” when we act in ways that we may consider immoral?
The things Thierry is called on to do are not illegal—one might even say he is doing something good. But he struggles because the other people involved are all so close to his own troubled economic situation. He identifies with them. But he seems to be trapped in this job because of his family and responsibility to them. This is a conflict that we all face in various ways throughout our lives.
Photos courtesy of Kino Lorber