Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Vincent Lindon’s portrayal of downtrodden Thierry in The Measure of a Man won him the best actor award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

3 out of 4 stars

Title
The Measure of a Man
Written by
Stéphane Brizé and Olivier Gorce
Directed by
Stéphane Brizé
Starring
Vincent Lindon and Karine de Mirbeck
Classification
PG
Country
USA
Language
English

The unseen work force is often referred to but seldom seen in stories about economic fallout, like The Company Men and The Big Short. Those films tend to stick with the alpha dogs, and how they're affected by capitalism run rampant – engrossing social realism can seem drab compared with the rarefied corner-office machinations of hedge-fund savants. In contrast, The Measure of a Man is about one of those everyday people who lose their livelihood and are at risk of losing everything else, and on this small scale and rather ordinary canvas the human drama is keenly felt.

Downtrodden Thierry, played by Vincent Lindon, is the stoic centre of the film, his third with director Stéphanie Brizé; Lindon's portrayal won him the best actor award at last year's Cannes Film Festival and a César too. As the Dardenne brothers most recently did in Two Days, One Night, Brizé looks at the effect of market forces on self-interest and the breakdown of community. This is life as it happens in the working class, chronicled in the travails of a fiftysomething unemployed factory technician as he tries to keep ahead of the bills while scrabbling for a decent job and caring for his son, who has a disability.

Brizé explores the issue through a series of Thierry's interpersonal exchanges – with a job consultant, a prospective employer (in an excruciatingly passive-aggressive Skype interview), a reproachful financial adviser who urges him give up his home, and so on. For added naturalism, most of these roles are played not by actors but by the real people who do those jobs, in plain-spoken and seemingly unrehearsed conversations. (The social realism also sometimes has a repetitious, absurd undercurrent – including one circular exchange with a civil servant about unemployment benefits in particular – making Brizé a Kafkaesque French version of Ken Loach.)

Story continues below advertisement

Early on, Thierry drops out of a group lawsuit against his former employer because he just wants to put it behind him. Yet moving on consists of a few steps back for every one forward, and the indignities are small but steady. At first, Thierry and his wife still enjoy dance classes, but, as their lifestyle deteriorates, they give up even that modest pleasure and instead roll up the living-room carpet to practise at home. Except at home, every interaction contains a small humiliation for one of its participants (even the guidance counsellor coolly outlining the consequences of the son's suddenly poor grades, indifferent to the family's cause).

At a group job-training session among equals where nothing is at stake, Thierry is brought even lower by peers who openly critique a tape of his mock interview. Even though they're all in the same situation, those who sit around the table are encouraged by the instructor to speak up – and with relish they rush to chime in and disparage everything from Thierry's posture and laconic replies to his seeming lack of enthusiasm, even deriding the casualness of his open-neck shirt.

A cruel irony comes next: Thierry indeed does put on a tie and jacket, but it's to work as a lowly supermarket security guard. He is trained in loss prevention and use of the store's dozens of security cameras, taught how to look for behavioural cues and how to anticipate that both customers and fellow store employees will steal. He is paid to expect the worst and bet against people's better nature, all while paying as careful, close attention as possible.

Throughout the film, the camera is in a surveillance position too, jump-cutting between painfully long unbroken scenes that feel like the static of a security video. They also wring out the discomfort, especially when Brizé stays on Lindon's woebegone face as he takes in the verbal punches, one after the other.

In scenes where the security guard catches shoplifters, each has a sadder reason than the last. Except for one brazen thief with bravado, most are in some way the pathetic byproduct of circumstances that wouldn't exist in a more empathetic economic system. (If I'm belabouring that it's an unfeeling system that expects the same of its workers, it's that Brizé does too: One crime unsubtly involves a store loyalty card.)

Thierry attempts to maintain basic courtesies ("Let's keep this polite") and to keep the job while being a troubling rarity – a person whose compassion has survived the unforgiving system. The question, though, is for how much longer?

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies