Deux Jours Une Nuit - Two Days One Night

Deux Jours Une Nuit - Two Days One Night

Postby CAP » Tue Nov 11, 2014 9:24 am

The latest offering from Belgian auteurs, the Dardenne brothers, Luc and Jean-Pierre, and by their standards amongst their slightest. I give it six. The story concerns Sandra (Marion Cotillard) married with two young children, recovering from a nervous breakdown, when she learns by phone that she has lost her job at a local solar panels factory in Seraing (Liege), in a deal that gave her colleagues a €1000 bonus if they agreed to her redundancy. Sandra despairs of the job loss - catastrophic for her own household – but is persuaded by a colleague, Juliette (Catherine Salée) to hurry into work to catch the boss before he leaves for the weekend and to beg for a fairer, secret ballot. This will give her time to approach colleagues and explain her situation. They only just catch the boss, M. Dumont (Batiste Sornin) as he is backing out in his car, but he reluctantly agrees to a second ballot on Monday. This gives Sandra the two days and a night of the title to approach her colleagues individually.

The story is then a series of exhausting door-knocks, where Sandra explains that she is fit and willing to work and begs a colleague to forego the hefty bonus and allow her to keep her job. It is surprisingly moving, and increasingly so, as an implicit plea for solidarity. It is a plea made all the more furtive by the complete absence of any union representation. We simply never get any consideration of Sandra’s legal position or of laws covering industrial relations. Not that a shop steward is any guarantee of justice, of course. But here we are in the cowardly new world of ‘free trade’ where Asian competition can reduce their labour costs to enslavement and coercion while Western rivals can only toy with ‘productivity’ levels. There is nothing free or fair about it. It is a world regulated for oppression and exploitation; that denies free collective bargaining in the name of global collusion, off-shore exemption. But sadly, the film has no real political conscience. It wants the drama of Sandra’s predicament but not the wider implications.

Predictably, Sandra encounters a range of responses, from sympathetic to reluctant, resentful to hostile, at times setting husband and wife against one another, at others, father and son. Here at least we sense how deeply and quickly these things run; how it affects lives and society. Everyone has their plans, for homes, children, holidays or small luxuries and everything hangs on the ruthless manipulation of the market, the lies about ‘productivity’ and ‘competition’. It is a dog eat dog world; made to suit the biggest dog. Sandra’s husband Manu (Dardenne regular, Fabrizio Rongione) does his best to support and encourage Sandra, but his income as a cook at a local café is clearly insufficient as well. Everyone is at full stretch. Wages no more than pace subsistence. To ask for charity there is to ask for sacrifices to one’s nearest and dearest. No wonder Sandra keeps popping the tranquilisers. No wonder everyone’s heart sinks when they open the door to her.

But with goading from Manu, she persists and wins half the votes needed. Unfortunately she needs a clear majority (although by rights, management doesn’t have a clear majority either, but there’s no room in the story to argue the toss). And then, just as she’s clearing her locker, word comes down that M. Dumont would like to see her. Here the story performs a neat pirouette whereby Dumont acknowledges her dedication in securing half the votes, when on Friday it looked as if only three would side with her, and impressed with her unsuspected popularity among colleagues, is prepared to offer her old job back, once one of the other workers’ short-term contract expires. That is, he will not renew the short-term contract but will offer her a permanent position (back). This is suspiciously generous, given his hitherto ruthless divide-and-conquer tactics, but has a warped HR ‘juggling resources’ ring to it for me. I could believe it. Those arseholes. But of course, by then Sandra is in no position to accept, having elicited precisely this kind of loyalty from her colleagues, she can hardly do down one of them in order to look after her own spot. So she must decline (a little ungraciously, I thought) and march out into the sunny industrial estate - which appropriately could be anywhere - and jump on the mobile to Manu to tell him the good but bad news, and her strange feeling of triumph. “We put up a good fight, didn’t we?” she tells him and it has at least brought her out of her depression, for the moment.

The presence of Cotillard is presumably bait for funding and ‘marquee value’, even on a modest project like this and she has rightly been lauded as much for her sympathies as her talent. But this is also the Dardennes stretching their range a little, broadening their style and revealing a few cracks. Their aesthetic is basically a documentary/realist one, all grim locations and handheld camera, a cast of unknowns or amateurs, but at the same time there is a story, a script and matters of pacing and plausibility can be as jarring as clumsy camera set-ups, crowding the frame or fostering a false spontaneity. It’s not easy remaining true to that Neo-Realist impulse. In Le Gamin au vélo (Kid with a Bike) there’s the convenient but implausible exit when the young hero plunges around twenty feet out of a tree unscathed, only to jump up and cycle off, eluding pursuers. Here Sandra downs a whole box of Xanax at one point in despair, only to regret it and be rushed to hospital to have her stomach pumped, then once rescued to be ready to resume her door-knock appeal. Yet what ER department is about to let a patient walk so soon after consuming a potentially lethal dose of Xanax? Much less exhibiting suicidal tendencies? There is such a thing as keeping them under observation, just in case of side effects. Her discharge at that point just would not have happened!

It’s funny how movie makers dedicated to the gritty side of life so happily skip over inconvenient realities. But there are also problems of more complex character development. Here in particular the nature of Sandra’s previous nervous breakdown. We get that she is terribly depressed about something, and takes to bed when it all gets too much, but it’s not clear she is really over it or ready to resume work the way she resorts to tranquilisers constantly. Are we dealing with a crazy person? So much of her colleague’s responses hang on this, one can understand their reluctance and nothing Sandra says or does actually clarifies her situation. This only detracts from the declared issue of a job traded against a staff bonus. At other times you sense the Dardennes flail for more substance, as when she accuses Manu of no longer loving her, because they haven’t had sex for months. Yeah that tired old stand-by. Oh you mean while you’ve been completely out of your tree? Yeah that can put a bit of a dampener on passion. The script here strains after something it has neither the space nor means to do justice to, and just looks banal. Like I say, not their best work by some distance. :|
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