Late Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini stated in an interview in 1974 that “Fascism . . . had not been capable of even scratching the soul of the Italian people; this new Fascism, armed with new means of communication and information . . . has not only scratched the soul of the Italian people but has lacerated, raped, and besmirched it forever.” The filmmaker and poet was obviously referring to consumerism, a phenomenon that imposes its own models and values and destroys thereby many aspects of society. That is exactly what happens to Thierry (Vincent Lindon), the main character in The Measure of a Man.
Thierry, a middle-aged labourer in France, has been unemployed for two years. He is trying to get back into the job market while doing his best to make his ends meet. He goes to meetings at the French equivalent of a job centre, only to find out how atrocious market laws are and how humiliating the process of getting back to work can be. He travels a long distance in order to sell his mobile home to a couple and gets stuck while negotiating. At 51, he begins to understand why stupid, shameless and shallow people make more money than him.
He then takes a job as a security guard in a big supermarket, a situation that will force him to face in a moral conflict. Will he be on the side of poor and exploited people, co-workers and customers, or will he embrace corporate values? He confronts an elderly man who steals meat and has no money and relatives; he watches on CCTV a cashier taking discount coupons for her own personal use; he takes part on the stupid parties for the senior workers. This is a laconic depiction of mankind.
Director and scriptwriter Stéphane Brizé (Mademoiselle Chambon, 2009) paints the screen with the colours of cinema verité – it is all very, very true and cruel. Lindon is simply superb and his performance granted him an award in Cannes 2015. The dehumanising effects of unemployment at first and then at the workplace later become evident in Thierry’s acts and words: it is a performance of restraint. Self-control, self-discipline, moderation, prudence in the name of family integrity. Thierry is also a father of a teenager with mental problems.
In the end, Thierry realises that a person’s dignity becomes the material for a squalid spectacle. French novelist André Malraux once wrote that “The attempt to force human beings to despise themselves is what I call hell”. The Measure of a Man is more than a comment on French society; it is a bald interpretation of our human condition.
Measure of a Man is out in cinemas. .