LE LOI DU MARCHE (THE MEASURE OF A MAN) (France 2015) ***** Top 10

Directed by Stephane Brize

Note from director Brize on her film: “It’s one thing for a business to make money. It’s another if it physically or morally abuses its employees to do so.  Work has become a rare commodity.  Like water.  And companies ultimately have an enormous amount of power.  If a company is healthy, the exchange between it and the employee is harmonious. But if this company acts like a dictatorship brandishing a nuclear weapon, then the employee becomes little more than canon fodder.”

Those who have seen the recent Dardennes Brothers’ social drama TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT will note the significantly similar structure and effect of these two films.  The Dardennes told the tale of a woman about to be laid off from work.  She canvasses her co-workers during the weekend asking them to give up their yearly bonuses so she can keep her job.  In MEASURE OF A MAN, the protagonist is an out-of-work 51-year old family man Thierry Taugourdeau (Vincent Lindon).  When finally finding work in a supermarket, he finds things are not what he had expected in terms of treatment of human beings by the company.

LE LOI DU MARCHE that translates directly to ‘the law of the market’ is a low key but nevertheless very effective social drama that will knock one out of ones seat.  

Brize’s film is made up of two parts.  The first shows Thierry unemployed and the second at his job where he takes at a lower salary.  No matter, he needs money to support his family which includes a mentally challenged but bright son Mathieu (Matthieu Schaller).  Brize need not have used the tactic of the son to evoke more sympathy from the audiences but it does wring out a lot of sympathy nevertheless.  If anyone feels that he or she is having a bad day, one might only be reminded of Thierry to realize that things could be a whole lot worse.

Brize uses the same technique occasionally as the Dardennes Brothers in the filming.  The Dardennes has the camera at neck level as it follows the main character around to give the audience a realistic of view of the action. The audience is offered some of the same, as in the scenes in which the audience see only the back of the head but never the face of Thierry’s female colleague, the security officer who questions the victims.

Brize’s low key film consists of many simply set up segments that tells the story very efficiently.  One is the meeting between Theirry and his ex-coworkers  They discuss a possible  lawsuit against their previous employer.  Thierry wants to move  on; others want some satisfaction.  A simple scene with half a dozen or so men arguing tells exactly who management, worker and what the environment is like.  A Skype interview between Thierry and his new prospective employer will also leave audiences at the edge of their seats.

Veteran French actor Vincent Lindon won the Cannes and the Cesar Award last year for BestActor for his portrayal of Thierry in this film.  It is a remarkable performance well deserving of the prizes.  His best scene is the one in which he learns dancing with his wife and instructor in which his every movement and facial expression proves the actor in top form.

But what makes Brize’s film work is that it totally connects the film with its audience.  One cannot not feel sorry of a hard-working middle class family man who loves his wife  Katherine (Karine de Mirbeck) and their mentally challenged teenage son.  But the connection is weakened during the second half when the audience could feel distanced from the people caught on camera for their dishonesty.  Perhaps Brize wants things to be a bit blurred - for the audience to really question whether a company’s honesty policy is worth human pain, as in one segment in which a caught worker has committed suicide.  

Simply, Brize has concocted a brilliant film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qop962e4M5Y

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