If a man can navigate the river of life despite its eddies and cataracts, if he can persist in the face of the ongoing threat of inundation, and if he continues to float without quite drowning, he will be both pitied and acclaimed by those who judge and take the measure of the man.
Thierry Traugourdeau is just such a man. As the protagonist in Stephane Brize’s absorbing film, “The Measure of a Man,” we see him enduring the disheartening struggles and disappointments that would seem to make him a modern-day Job.
He has lost his job as a factory worker and has been seeking work unsuccessfully for 18 months. He and his wife have been surviving on his meager savings. And they have a severely handicapped son who is only partially functional and speaks in a nearly unintelligible monotone.
In this slow-paced film, which Brize wrote (with Olivier Gorce) and now directs, we move with Traugourdeau as he is interviewed and rebuffed by one personnel officer after another. After all, he is over 50 and has few technological skills. To remedy that, he spends many months in a school that teaches him to run certain machinery, only to discover that no company will hire a man with no actual experience working with the machines.
As their savings run out, he and his wife are obliged to sell their home, a small trailer, which they leave unwillingly.
Through all this turmoil Traugourdeau moves without complaint, with only an occasional furrowed brow to reveal his pain. The actor is Vincent Lindon, whose strong features and purposeful stride engage one’s interest and sympathy. He most certainly doesn’t deserve the indifference by which he is consistently confronted.
The French movie-going public was not indifferent, however. Lindon’s performance earned him the Best Actor award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, as well as the Cesar and Lumieres Awards. In addition, the film itself earned a Special Mention for the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at Cannes as well as the Audience Award at the Brussels Film Festival. Plus the Special Ensemble Acting Jury Award, presented to the cast at the Film Festival in Denver.
This beautifully rendered French film may be a tad too French for an American audience, though. Here in America, conditioned by television, we respond to fast cuts from scene to scene and interminable dialogue, whereas the classic French filmmakers have often tended to linger on an actor’s face for long minutes as he ruminates, silent and motionless.
Further, in “The Measure of a Man” the ending is somewhat Frenchly ambiguous. Traugourdeau eventually lands a tedious job as a security guard in a Walmart-like superstore. Standing impassively for hours, or patrolling the endless aisles, he watches for potential thieves whom he is obliged, as civilly as possible, to threaten and terrify. Whether he is able to continue indefinitely in this harsh role, or whether he leaves the store altogether, is left to the discernment of the viewer.
“The Measure of a Man” opens this week in Los Angeles.