Stéphane Brizé’s La Loi du Marché, one of four French films in the official competition for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival, is social realism at its grittiest and most unforgiving. Mostly set in one of the featureless out-of-town shopping centres much loved by French directors of late (Louis-Julien Petit’s Discount, Marianne Tardieu’s Qui Vive), Brizé’s film takes a swipe at society’s failure to address the real consequences of France’s unprecedentedly high unemployment rate as seen through the eyes of a 51-year-old blue-collar worker. Vincent Lindon, last seen in Benoit Jacquot’s Journal d’une femme de Chambre, changes register completely to play Thierry, an unemployed father of a handicapped child who is desperate to find a job after 20 months without work. Lindon’s captivating performance as the decent, hardworking Thierry, forced to accept a job which runs counter to his basic principles is almost too difficult to watch and Lindon well deserves a nomination for Best Actor. He is terrific in the role, simmering with an anger and a sense of injustice he never allows to take control. Lindon is more than capable of carrying the whole film on his shoulders and yet he blends in seamlessly with this cast of non-professional actors. But perhaps Brizé’s greatest achievement is in telling Thierry’s story without a trace of self-pity or melodrama – it’s even laced with touches of nicely timed humour.
The film opens with a foretaste of what is to come. After a training course lasting several months, Thierry is back at the Job Centre after realising no work exists for his newly-aquired skills. His unemployment benefit is coming to an end and he needs to find a job. There follows an excruciating job interview by Skype, a meeting with a hard-nosed banker who, far from understanding his precarious financial position, tries to sell him an additional insurance policy. And then there is a session at the job centre aimed at improving Thierry’s interview skills which turns into a humiliating five minute character assassination at the hands of his fellow jobseekers. Brizé then cuts to Thierry’s new job as the security guard at a hypermarket where his day is spent watching security cameras for shoplifters and escorting them to a back room where they are told to pay for the stolen goods and leave the store. It’s gruelling, soul-destroying work, preying on some people who lack the money to pay for the object they have stolen. But Thierry is spying not only on consumers, but also on staff members in an effort to reduce the workforce and improve the store’s profit margin. Thierry now has to ask himself how far he is prepared to go to keep his job.
Brizé has backed away from claims his film resembles the Dardennes brothers’ Two Days, One Night
with Marion Cotillard in the lead role which was in competition at last year’s Cannes festival. There are similarities. Both deal with the issue of unemployment and worker solidarity and both have a cinema heavyweight among non-professional actors. But he is more like Britain’s Ken Loach with his pithy observations on society and class. And while computer technology has undeniably brought many advantages, Brizé points out it has also had a ‘dehumanizing’ effect, distancing people from each other and leaving them to feel free to attack and criticise at will. La Loi de Marche
is not an obvious choice for the Palme d’Or but one of the beauties of the Cannes Film Festival is its ability to do what is least expected.
DIRECTOR’S BIO – STEPHANE BRIZE
1999 Le bleu des villes – Hometown Blue