“The Measure of a Man,” a film whose French title translates as “market law,’ is a condemnation of an economic system that treats its workers as disposable objects regardless of how diligently they have performed or how long they have been employed. Thierry, the protagonist played by Vincent Lindon in an award winning tour de force, is an everyman who has lost his job and been put through several retraining programs that were exercises in futility, never leading to an actual job. We see his frustration in dealing with the bureaucracy that sends people jumping through meaningless hoops only to be turned down time and again. We see him interviewed on Skype by a callow employer who whittles him down to the humiliating admission that he would welcome working for less money at a position lower than expected - only to be told that he has less than a 1% chance of getting the job - though it’s not impossible.
In the most moving part of the this film, we see him at home with a severely disabled son who is treated with dignity and acceptance by him and his wife. In one scene, the parents put on music and begin to dance together, eventually including the son and having Thierry step aside and beam as his son dances with his mother. These are scenes showing all three characters accepting their fate and moving on without self-pity as best they can. Thierry undergoes all sorts of duress : a version of group therapy in which his trial interview is critiqued by his peers; a lecture by an employment counselor who urges him to sell his house and buy life insurance; a patronizing speech by his son’s school director who now doubts that the boy can achieve his dream of going to college and a disappointment by a potential buyer of his mobile home who agreed to a price on the phone but tries to bargain him down after he sees it. His life is a series of reality bites which lead to his taking a job as a security officer at a large supermarket.
Forced to confront both shoplifters and workers who have been caught on camera in various petty thefts and offenses, Thierry realizes that he must stand up against the dehumanizing system referred to in the French title. Given the particularly extenuating circumstances of his life - his outstanding loan, his expenses for his disabled son’s care and education and his need to support his family, his heroic gesture struck this reviewer as an idealistic pipe dream, the luxury of people unburdened by the financial vise that has Thierry chained to accepting whatever job he can find. In a movie that has the hero unemployed for almost two previous years, grand gestures seem too expensive a commodity. More realistic and tragic are the everyday compromises people are forced to make when principles become luxuries that filmmakers can entertain while their subjects struggle to survive and make the best of the little that’s available to them.
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