Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2015 2:25 pm 
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How much must one compromise to have a job?

This is an issue film and a character study that treads Dardenne brothers territory but without the final uplift. Judging by the other two Stéphane Brizé films I've seen, Not Here to be Loved, about an ultra-dour bailiff (Patrick Chesnais), and Mademoiselle Chambon (with Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain), concerning a lonely schoolteacher's brief romance with a married man, Brizé likes his stories a bit down at the mouth. And this is the flaw of his new film, with its rock-solid performance by the always impeccable Lindon that won him the best acting award at Cannes. The film is so unrelentingly grim it leaves you feeling more worn down than enlightened. But its lesson about the moral limits of compromise for a man seeking employment in a down economy is a dose of medicine that can't be pushed aside or forgotten.

Thierry (Vincent Lindon) is a laid off factory heavy equipment operator who's wasted 20 months taking training courses that turn out not to qualify him for a new job. And we see him being advised to take out life insurance; unable to get even near the market rate for his mobile home; informed in a Skype interview that his chances of being hired for a job like his old one are very slim, though not zero. The first part of the film shows us a series of bureaucratic humiliations patiently endured by Thierry, and we're introduced to his wife and son Matthieu, who has cerebral palsy (requiring expensive special care). After all the grim lessons of the heartless "Law of the market" (the French title) of the depressed economy, we suddenly see Thierry in a job unworthy of him -- suited up as a security guy in a big box store. Here the title's second meaning is applied: he must now impose the ruthless law of this market, an internal one, both cruel and kind, based on a surveillance-state system using dozens of cameras to monitor every inch of the store.

Except the first, a cocky young Arab guy who steals a charger for his smart phone, the shoplifters are poor and unfortunate, the climactic one an old man who has pocketed two pieces of red meat to add to his small bag of groceries. By store policy he goes free if he can pay for the meat, but he's spent the last centimes of his monthly dole on the small bag of groceries. But the unkindest cut is what follows: the store spies on its own employees, especially the cashiers, and one of them, a hard working 20-year employee with a drug addict son caught out for hoarding store coupons, commits suicide.

This movie not only lacks final uplift; it contains nothing that's remotely fun. Even dancing lessons Thierry takes are somehow mechanical and sad. But Vincent Lindon embodies his character so well we strongly feel his feelings in the scenes with shoplifters even though he's barely saying anything because another security staff person does most of the talking.

Most of the scenes throughout are improvised, and many feel like simulations, which give a somewhat artificial sense of realism. That's except for Lindon. He owns and fully inhabits every role he plays, even when cast wildly against type in Benoît Jacquot's 1998 School of Flesh as a prissy transvestite. I like what Mike D'Angelo said in his Cannes report on this film for The Dissolve, that Lindon "fairly oozes rugged masculinity." (Except maybe as a transvestite.). And to do that and seem authentic isn't so easy. So three cheers for Lindon's Cannes award. I'll go with Scott Foundas' Variety review: Lindon as Thierry gives us "a veritable master class in understated humanism." This performance is a nice parallel, as others have also said, for Marion Cotillard's in Two Days, One Night. But I'm reserving judgment on this film.

The Measure of a Man/La loi du marché, 93 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2015 in Competition, wining for Vincent Lindon the Best Actor award, arguably long overdo given the depth of Lindon's many performances. French release AlloCiné pres rating 3.8. A Kino Lorber release. Screened for this review as part of the 2015 New York Film Festival (its North American premiere) . US theatrical release begins 15 Apr. 2016 NYC (Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, Metrograph).

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