What would Guédiguian have done with this movie?

The measure of the man is a movie, whose French title translates literally as The law of the market.

It’s a movie about the humiliation of a working class man, the daily, regular lived experience of repeated humiliations and disrespect, some small, some large, of a skilled worker whose job was wiped out when his factory was shut down.

The prolific, talented, award-winning French actor Vincent Lindon plays Thierry Taugourdeau. In the opening scene Thierry has just been told by a case worker at the employment agency that he will never be able to get a job as a crane driver, despite having done a course, because he has no construction experience. Thierry is frustrated that he has already wasted the first 4 months of his access to a higher rate of unemployment benefits, since his company closed, on a hopeless strategy that had been recommended to him by another case worker. The frustration is amplified by the circular conversation in which Thierry and the case worker repeat their version of events to each other, and the case worker is unhelpful about an alternative.

That scene sets the tone for Thierry’s experience, living life by the law of the market. There are many circular, fruitless conversations – with a former workmate who wants to sue the company for faking insolvency; with a banking advisor who inspects his finances and recommends that he sell his apartment, with a prospective buyer who wants to pay only 6300 Euros for his modest mobile holiday cabin worth at least 7000 Euro; with a recruiter in a Skype job interview; with his son’s teacher who says that his son’s grades have declined and may mean he misses out on the degree of his dreams. The very worst, most humiliating scene is in a class for job seekers, where other students in the class tear apart Thierry’s performance in a video of a mock interview. The viewing is sometimes excruciating, sometimes tedious. At some moments I ask “What would Robert Geudigean have done with this material?” But I want to like this movie because its material is so important.

Thierry’s life is not relentlessly depressing because he loves his family. He has fun with his wife. We see them at dancing classes. And he cares tenderly for his son, who has a physical disability. He is not a passive victim. He had been part of the union campaign to try to save the factory that closed down. He makes his own decisions about the advice other people give him.

The story line is barely the point of this movie, there is very little suspense, and very slow progress. It is a study in Thierry’s experience, the camera follows him in close up, in a similar way (but different too) to two other recent movies I’ve seen – Son of Saul (which is intensely suspenseful because Saul has a mission with a short deadline, and it is set in Auschwitz where deaths are constant), and Dheepan (which is about three Tamil refugees attempting to rebuild their lives in France).

Is it a reflection of the low level of working class resistance that this movie has almost no story? It focuses on the experience of one individual trying to live his life as well as he can, as he comes up against the relentless forces of the markets, the labour market, the finance market, the real estate market, that keep him in his place?

Plot spoiler alert coming up. You could stop reading here if you think you’ll see the movie. When Thierry does get a job, there are new humiliations for other people, which require Thierry to be complicit. He gives no sign of feeling unhappy about this. He quietly gets on with his job. Until all of a sudden, at the end, there is a breaking point.

Is this also anticipation of a collective breaking point?


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