THE MEASURE OF A MAN: Dull And Meaningless, Just Like Life
In Henry David Thoreau's Walden, a treatise about the human condition, he wrote, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." For many people the work they do is pointless, only going far enough to provide limited sustenance while killing the spirit inside which yearns to be free. Naturally, this is nothing new.
In Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, a treatise about the human condition, he wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” For many people the work they do is pointless, only going far enough to provide limited sustenance while killing the spirit inside which yearns to be free. Naturally, this is nothing new. People have been shackled under the weight of meaningless labor for millenniums. This narrative thread is as old as western society, where the Ancient Greek tale of Sisyphus doomed to push a boulder up a hill every day for eternity, was born. Humans wish to have the stability to do what they truly want, yet the machinations of time and circumstance rarely allow for such fulfillments.
In The Measure of a Man (La loi du marché) by French filmmaker, Stéphane Brizé, an unemployed man is attempting to solve the riddle of nihilistic work. The film remixes the lore of Sisyphus in the most realistic way possible, though ostensibly to the detriment of the film. It’s a meandering, boring and unengaging story, but perhaps that’s the point. As the trite saying goes, “Every day is exactly the same.”
Same Old Song and Dance
Thierry Taugourdeau (Vincent Lindon) is the Everyman in question in The Measure of a Man. Having been laid-off from some kind of manufacturing job, Thierry is trying to find a new line of work when he eventually becomes a supermarket security guard. His days consist of watching random people on the store monitors and walking around on the floor keeping an eye out for shoplifters.
As interesting and potentially entertaining this could be, the “action” of the movie is undeniably boring. In fact, the entire film is about as much fun as watching paint dry. Not that entertainment is the point of all art or intellectual ponderings, but The Measure of a Man is about as lifeless as the world in which Thierry walks about in and it doesn’t make for anything to remember.
To this American critic it is bizarre that Lindon won Best Actor for his work in the film at the 2015 Cannes festival. But at the same time it makes a little sense when put in the context that the French love their superreal cinema – they love the real, whatever that may be in the medium of luminous illusion. The camera is often too far away from Thierry to pick up any slight expression he might give, and seldomn does. Lindon’s perfromance is understated, to say the least, and he walks about the movie with a dull and glazed-over look on his face. It’s the wear and tear of living in consumerism.
Brizé tries to make Thierry an even more sympathetic and tragic figure by giving him a son with cerebral palsy, and the son wants to go to college. It’s a tropey narrative that if had it been made in Hollywood would be one of much deserved scorn. But because this movie is a French movie, well then it’s okay to the Cannes critics that it’s as empty and ugly. But once again, maybe the ugliness and completely flat tone of movie is the point and is to mirror life’s nonsense.
Au Revoir, Style
The biggest grievance the film makes is in the completely uninspired usage of cameras and editing. It’s all shot hand-held (my least favorite method, but I tried to put a bold face on it), and since this is the post-Saving Private Ryan world that means the camera must shake about for no reason. There’s an attempt to be so immersive so that the viewer goes along with unimportant film, but never once is there a clever set-up or usage of the language of film in a creative way. It’s as if the literal production of film was reflecting the quest of Thierry, though without spark and care, and it is off-putting.
There is something to be said for beauty of art. We have gotten to a place where if something on the surface is beautiful it has to have a depth to it otherwise it’s shallow. In my opinion, that’s just silly. If one removes all of the embellishments and the unique and thrilling ways to tell a story then what is left is a movie like The Measure of a Man. One wants to look at things with interest, even if they are nasty and unappealing they can be displayed in a dazzling kind of light. Without the hint of inspiration there is nothing but drab and lifeless events happening, and that’s global economics 101.
The Measure of a Man doesn’t measure up to much, except a contraction of interpretations. There are far better films, including French ones, that tackle the same thematic ideas and actually do something with them. There is an air of anguish in this review, and that comes from enduring things that have no merit and nothing of significance to one’s life or to the canon of film.
The Measure of a Man gets an LA release on May 20. Find international release dates here.
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