Stephane Brize, director of the wonderful drama Mademoiselle Chambon, dips into contemporary social realism with this quietly effective consideration of how the surveillance culture degrades and debases. It takes a while to get there. We begin with a lengthy sequence in which Thierry (Vincent Lindon), a recently laid off factory worker, endures an achingly bureaucratic consultation with an employment officer. Other tedious indignities are endured – he must sell his mobile home; dispiriting interviews now take place on Skype – before he secures a job working as a security guard in a department store.
There is a quiet savagery to Brize’s treatment of the capitalist machine. Early on, Thierry is present at a pathetic celebration – complete with cheesy song – for a woman on the meat counter who is leaving after 35 years. But the slick manager’s tone changes when, later, an employee is caught on camera in a minor act of fraud. Meanwhile, the decent Thierry quietly (we assume) contemplates his complicity.
It is hard to avoid mention of the Dardenne brothers when discussing such a piece, but Brize’s techniques could hardly be more different. Whereas the Belgians have their camera bounce after their often-doomed characters, Brize uses long takes that allow us to absorb apparently insignificant details. He receives invaluable assistance from the brilliant Lindon, whose eloquent subtlety has propelled him to the top of most tipsters’ lists of the race for best actor at Cannes.
The Measure of a Man is not altogether a depressing film. Brize and his co-writer Olivier Gorce present a picture of a stable family coping patiently with mounting catastrophe. The matter-of-fact treatment of their charming disabled son recalls a similar character in (of all things) Breaking Bad.
The grim conclusions about the chilly inflexibility of the market are, however, impossible to ignore. It is to the credit of all concerned that the film never seems didactic.