THE MEASURE OF A MAN (La Loi du marché)
Kino Lorber
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Grade: B+
Director:  Stephán Brizé
Written by: Stphan Brizé, Olivier Gorce
Cast: Vincent Lindon, Yves Ory, Karine de Mirbeck, Matthieu Schaller, Xavier Mathieu
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 4/5/16
Opens: April 15, 2016

No matter what politicians tell you about what matters most, whether it be Donald Trump who recently cited the three biggest issues in America are “security, security, security,” most Americans, whether they admit it or not, will say, “It’s the economy,stupid.”  Political scientists regularly confirm that whether a President gets a second term depends on the health of the economy.  The same may be true in France, where at least, unlike the situation in the U.S., workers have some stability.  It’s against the law to fire people in France (from what I’ve learned) after they have passed a trial period, with two exceptions: a business division closes, or if employees are caught stealing.

So what can a company do if its bottom line is nothing to write home about and it needs to lay off a batch of workers?  In Stéphane Brizé’s account, it can look for an excuse, even to the extent of prosecuting petty thefts.

“The Measure of a Man” is the English title for the French “La Loi du marché,” or “Market Law.”  If, after seeing the film, you think the French title is more apt, you probably are thinking politically, that Brizé and co-writer Olivier Gorce are indicting capitalism.  If you think the English title is more appropriate, you are empathizing with an individual who is undergoing hard times and is angry, albeit restrained.  How he responds to his situation, then, will show him as a person who has not lost his integrity despite his empty pockets and dim chances of landing a job with good pay.

The man of the title, “Thierry Taugourdeau (Vincent Lindon), is down on his luck.  At age 51, he is laid off from his factory job like many of his colleagues by a company which might be able to justify the hatchet job.  He is considered too old to pick up a new gig, not just by potential employers but by the bankers (like one played by Catherine Saint-Bonnet) and by recruitment advisors (like Yves Ory), the latter playing the game by training people for employment knowing that the training will lead nowhere.  Thierry tells off an employment counselor for wasting his time learning to operate a crane when nobody will offer a guy his age a job.  He is condescended to by a company that tells him his chances of getting employment, and while the interviewer is at it, lectures Thierry about a poorly written résumé.  A middle-aged couple agrees to buy a mobile home in the countryside which has sentimental value but upon meeting him, the prospective buyer reneges on his agreement to pay the accepted price.  Thierry shows his integrity by refusing to have the price lowered. What’s more he has a developmentally disabled son (Matthieu Schaller) who despite a physical illness is intelligent and motivated, and Thierry lacks sufficient funds to get him the special education help that’s needed.

When he finally lands a job well below his abilities as a security guard in a large supermarket, he is disgusted by the boss’s plan to latch onto any excuse to downsize the work force.  It is here, after noting how poor customers are picked up for shoplifting, whether meat or CDs, and how two of the hard-working employees are nailed for minor offenses which in no way should justify dismissal.

“The Measure of a Man” is about as naturalistic as a movie can get, the antithesis of a “Batman v. Superman” or “The Boss,” and will be appreciated by an audience that is sophisticated enough to go for what is not only an effective indictment of the harshness of Western capitalism but is graced by an astonishing performance from Vincent Lindon (he got a five-minutes’ standing ovation at Cannes).  Lindon nails the persona of a man who is being thrown under a bus by the system yet keeps his integrity throughout.  The film bears resemblance to the Belgian Dardennes Brothers’ “Two Days and One Night,” in which a group of people in a small company are given the choice of taking a pay cut that would enable the firm to avoid laying off an employee, or refusing the suggestion, which would mean the firing of a colleague.

Most of the cast are not professional actors, but simply people who inhabit the roles that mirror their own lower-middle-class jobs.  It would be the year’s understatement to say that this critique of capitalism lacks the melodramatic excesses of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” (not to knock that terrific picture) and will fit nicely into the theatergoing choice of an urbane audience.

Unrated.  93 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+


By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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