Reviews

Cannes 2015: 'La Loi de Marche' and 'An'

La Loi de Marché (The Measure of a Man) (2015)

Two films at the Cannes Film Festival consider work; work as a means to an end, and work as a need for social connection.


La Loi de Marché (The Measure of a Man)

Director: Stéphane Brizé
Cast: Vincent Lindon, Yves Ory, Karine de Mirbeck, Matthieu Schaller, Xavier Mathieu, Noël Mairot, Catherine Saint-Bonnet
Rated: NR
Studio: Diaphana Films
Year: 2014
Website

An

Director: Naomi Kawase
Cast: Kirin Kiki, Masatoshi Nagase, Kyara Uchida, Miyoko Asada, Etsuko Ichihara
Rated: NR
Studio: Comee des Cinémas
Year: 2014
Website

Among several films considering social and political themes at Cannes 2015, two use work -- as concept and practice -- to meditate on systemic social injustice. La Loi de Marché (The Measure of a Man) initially presents work as a means to an end. When Thierry Taugourdeau (Vincent Lindon) loses his job at a factory where he's worked for over 20 years, he is left to support his family and pay his mortgage with only his meager unemployment benefit.

Like the Dardenne brothers' Two Days, One Night and Emmanuelle Bercot's Standing Tall, Stéphane Brizé's film adopts what might be described as a "documentary style". Moreover, as Brizé told the press at Cannes, the non-professional actors he chose for all supporting roles had the same jobs as their characters do in the film. Detailing Thierry's humiliations and disappointments, La Loi de Marché follows his encounters with his Employment Agency counselor, his banker, and his job recruiters. During an early scene, participants in a job search workshop analyze Thierry's performance during a mock job interview, rating him badly on every score. His posture is slumped, they say. His voice is too low and his answer is too vague.

To suggest the difficult emotional experience of Thierry and his wife, Katherine (Karine de Mirbeck), cinematographer Éric Dumont's tight frames emphasize small spaces, During a scene when potential buyers pressure Thierry and Katherine to sell their tiny summer house for cheap, the camera close on each face, alternately unsure or urgent. During a Skype job interview, the camera remains focused on Thierry while we hear the voice of a recruiter (played by producer Christophe Rossignon), reprimanding him for his bad resumé.

When Thierry finally finds work as a security guard, he has to catch people much like himself pilfering from a supermarket. An old man has no money to pay for his stolen meat and a coworker swipes discount coupons. Here again, the camera remains static, keeping Thierry in frame, this time from the back as he observes the accused, removed to a four-square-meter supermarket office, as each individual stands against the wall, confronted by implacable managers and guards.

La Loi de Marché is suffused with this sense of a lack of options. Still, French title describes Thierry's struggle better than the English translation, The Measure of a Man, focusing not on his moral choices, but on the ruthless law of the capitalist job market, as well as the more informal but no less cruel law of the supermarket where he works. Whatever alternative Thierry might choose, he cannot dismantle either.

An (2015)

Another set of limitations face 76-year-old Tokue (Kirin Kiki) in Naomi Kawase's An. Based on Durian Sukegawa's novel, the film follows Tokue's efforts to return home after most of her life in a leper colony. (Until 1996 in Japan, even after a cure for the illness was found, lepers were quarantined by law.) Near the film's start, Tokue offers her services to Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase), manager of a small pastry shop that specializes in dorayaki, a popular pastry made of an, a sweet red bean paste, sandwiched between two small pancakes. Sentaro declines at first, and then, after tasting her delicious homemade paste, he agrees.

An details the work of making this pastry, showing step by step how Tokue boils the beans, adds sugar, waits, stirs the mix, and even talks to the beans. The process takes five hours and a new batch needs to be made every day. At the Cannes press conference, Kiki revealed that she spent a full day in a cooking school learning how to make an, while Masatoshi Nagase took dorayaki-making lessons with a Japanese pastry chef. "This is a specialty," Kawase said, "that only professional cooks know how to make. It takes a lot of time."

Due to Tokue's talent, the shop becomes a success. She befriends Sentaro and a shy schoolgirl Wakana (Kyara Uchida, Kiki's real-life granddaughter), a regular customer who only has a canary for a friend. But soon Wakana notices Tokue's disfigured hands and lets that slip to her mother. When word of Tokue's leprosy spreads, she is forced to retreat to her quarantined dwelling. When Sentaro and Wakana find her, they learn about the history of leprosy in Japan, and the last scenes turn sentimental and didactic.

But in the early scenes, Tokue's dedication mirrors that of An's director. Kawase asked her actors to "embody the characters during production." Nagase reported that he lived in a tiny apartment of his character, and the process was so arduous that Kiki declared it more suited for younger actors. Their focus on the work of the film mirrors the film's own focus. At its best, An explores labor as idea and experience, its pleasures and its pains.

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