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From Cannes: "La loi du marché" ("The Measure of a Man") Comes Up to Scratch

Dir. Stéphane Brizé (Dist. TBA)—4 Stars

“La loi du marché” literally means “the rule of the market,” but the film’s English title is “The Measure of a Man.” These two phrases put together summarize the plot perfectly: it depicts the conflict between an ordinary man who wants to make a decent living and support his family, and the cruel law of the market that corners him into giving up his dignity and sympathy. The film’s highly polished screenplay and great sense of understatement explore this question to its extreme.

At the film’s beginning, the audience is introduced to the main character, Thierry, played by Vincent Lindon, and his problem: he does not have a job. He argues with a receptionist about a professional course he has just taken on construction machinery, which has proven useless in the job market. The receptionist insists that they have designed the course to meet the needs of the market and claims it is Thierry’s mistake for choosing this course without any previous experience in machinery.

This is an argument that is all too familiar in daily life. It could take place in a bank or government office; people worn out by endless trivialities argue over and over without reaching any result. Director Stéphane Brizé doesn’t over-dramatize the argument; he just presents the scene as it is, and at some points it almost feels like watching the monitor of a CCTV. In the first half of the film, the main character is constantly tortured by the cruelty of reality. Viewers see him do an interview on Skype, where he lowers his expectations over and over only to be told that he had a slim chance to get the job in the first place; they then see him speaking to a bank clerk, who walks through different types of investment plans and finally suggests that he sell his house; they even see a consultant at an insurance company recommend that he buy life insurance because it “makes you feel safe if you suddenly die.” All of these meaningless conversations are so unromantic and exhausting that the reality of Thierry’s life becomes suffocating.

In the second half of the film, Thierry finally gets a job as a security guard at a supermarket but his situation still does not improve. Responsible for preventing shoplifting, he has to deal with ordinary people just like himself who have to resort to theft when they have no job. At several points, the shoplifters that he apprehends explain their plight to him and other security guards, but in the instances, all that Thierry can do is remain silent and follow procedure. There is a great sense of helplessness in the inactivity of Lindon that is more touching than any dramatic breakdown.

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“La loi du marché” is a precise, direct, and profound depiction of the current European economic crisis, and it has great power in its understatement and extremely relatable story. It is almost ironic that it was shown at Cannes, where right outside the theater is a street full of sports cars and luxurious clubs.

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