Fans of Waiting for Godot will find themselves flocking to this rather fatalist French film about a man searching for revenue after losing his job.
Stéphane Brizé’s The Measure of a Man is a strange film, with camera angles that force you to concentrate on the protagonist, even when no one else does. Not for the unsteady in resolve or even those looking for action, it’s reminiscent of Franz Kafka‘s best works- when no one is watching you, do you really exist? This question comes up again and again as we witness the leading man, Thierry Taugourdeau, exist merely as an observer. Not once does he genuinely participate in his own life. The few engagements he has with reality are confrontational, from his yelling at a potential buyer of his mobile home to ending his pursuit of justice for being scammed by a job agency. He does not seem to have friends, too busy looking for jobs and supporting his wife and disabled son to socialize much. Instead, he remains on the sidelines, the camera unflinchingly drawn to his face like an errant moth to the light. French cinema is unforgiving towards its characters, as we’ve seen time and time again. This is no different. Given his flaws in all their base glory, we have no choice but to actively seek out his good. And it’s found time and time again. His dedication to his work, no matter how undignified it is (security guard at a supermarket), his love and commitment to his family, and even his pride. It comes from a place of being proud of the people he has in his life, not necessarily himself.
Testament to the jobs crisis in Europe, the story quickly falls away. Similar to Beckett’s Godot (originally in French), we’re left with a lack of setting as often the background is out of focus. Certainly other characters are, flitting in and out of his life. We only see characters filtered through their tangential relevance to him, and even when that happens, he is on the sidelines. What is the measure of this man? Are we meant to feel triumphant when he ends his job, monotonous torment that it is? Or are we disappointed in him for breaking the cycle, jealous even that he can stop waiting? Waiting for who? For what?
Well, what do we wait for? These questions remain as the credits roll, as uncertain as the fate of everyone he knows, and even Thierry himself.
Opens on Friday, April 15 at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Metrograph
Shown in Conjunction with Vincent Lindon Retrospective, April 15-21 at Metrograph