Chloe Walker, Marketing Manager for The Phoenix Picturehouse Oxford introduces this week’s Discover Tuesdays title, Measure of a Man.
Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, the story of a man approaching retirement whose life is derailed after losing his job, won not only the Palme D’Or but also most of the media attention at Cannes this year. Similarly themed, The Measure Of A Man has garnered fewer headlines, but is just as worthy of your time.
51 year-old Thierry (Vincent Lindon) is an unemployed factory worker who has been doggedly pursuing employment for 18 months, completing courses that turn out to be useless and being turned down for jobs of a far lower level than his previous position. Adding to Thierry’s stress is his teenage son (Matthieu Schaller), who is headed for college, but whose cerebral palsy means additional financial burdens that Thierry just can’t afford. Although Thierry eventually finds a job, his troubles don’t end there.
Director Stéphane Brizé clearly has a lot of faith in his leading man, and deservedly so. In a film as low key as this, Lindon’s exquisite performance (which won him best actor at Cannes) almost counts as a special effect. When he is on screen, Thierry doesn’t speak much – we just watch him react to the various indignities he is subjected to, from a taped practice job interview mercilessly dissected by his classmates at the employment centre, to a faceless potential employer attacking his poorly written resume over a Skype interview. Anguished eyes undercut Lindon’s stoic, granite cliff of a face; his performance is a masterclass in quiet desperation.
None of this is to imply that The Measure Of A Man is just 90 minutes of Thierry being metaphorically beaten up: the scenes where he fights back are some of the film’s finest. His fiery negotiation over the sale of his mobile home becomes nail-biting, and the end scene is a quiet triumph. You feel every setback and every victory deeply.
Brizé uses the rapidly built rapport we feel for Thierry to explore the hardships facing those in his position with more empathy than any of the film’s innumerable bureaucrats ever express. Once he eventually finds work, he’s still a man against a bureaucratic machine, having to choose between his own empathy for his put-upon colleagues and earning money to keep his family afloat. They say the personal is political – rarely has this seemed more true than whilst watching Measure Of A Man.
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