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Reviews - Two Days, One Night

Two Days, One Night

Reviewed By Vaughan Ames

Two Days, One Night
Two Days, One Night
Spoiler Warning

After our short Christmas break, the Film Club returned with 'Two Days, One Night', the aptly named latest film from the Dardennes brothers – favourite directors both here in Keswick and worldwide. Jean­Pierre and Luc Dardenne have now had six films nominated for the 'Palme d'Or' award at Cannes Film Festival and have won it twice – only 6 other directors have ever done this – so we were in the hands of maestros on Sunday night. Did they pull it off again?

Their films always have a strong sense of morality, usually about poor people struggling to survive. In this case, we met Sandra; she has been off work for some time after suffering a nervous breakdown, but is now 'ready to work again'. At the start of the film we see her on the phone getting the news that she may not get her job back. (She works for a small solar­panel firm who are in competition in the global market. They have offered her work colleagues a €1,000 bonus if they agree to make Sandra redundant; the workers have voted to accept the bonus). Sandra puts the phone down and runs to the bathroom to get anti­depressants, trying unsuccessfully to stop herself from crying. Her husband returns and tries to console her, persuading her see her boss to agree to a new ballot (which she does) and to visit all her workmates over the weekend to get them to change their vote; she has 'two days, one night' to rescue her future. The film then follows her around as she meets them all (The Dardennes are famous for leaving their main character on screen for most of the film; in this case Sandra's face is never more than a few feet from the lens). She has mixed success: most of the workers are portrayed as needing the bonus so much that they cannot afford to give it up, one breaks down in tears and confesses he is wracked with guilt at accepting the bonus – 'of course I will vote for you'.

The Dardennes are quoted as saying 'We wanted to show how this woman, without realizing it, over one weekend, manages to inspire a solidarity that was totally lost in the workplace. In the attempt to save herself, she manages to recreate this important element: solidarity.This is what interested us. Not pointing the finger at who is to blame, whether it's the company, our society or the harsh competitiveness of the working environment'. I was, then, expecting the film to be about solidarity (and, of course, expecting her to win!).

Unfortunately for me, there was little or no signs of solidarity in the film. Poor Sandra was left alone to visit her workmates; no­one offered to help her, except her husband who drove her around. There was not even a meeting on the Monday morning where views could be expressed – Sandra and the foreman were banished from the room so that the 'secret ballot' could be held without argument.

One of her workmates did phone his friend and get him to change his vote, and one woman argued so much with her husband that she eventually left him (the high point of the film for me; he was a total control freak and deserved to lose her), but that was it. I was left feeling that Jean­Pierre and Luc Dardenne had no experience of solidarity, seeing it as an individual moral decision – surely the opposite of (solid)arity?

So did she win, despite the huge barrier of having to argue with so many people when she was recovering from a breakdown? Well...on Saturday afternoon she was so depressed that she swallowed all her remaining pills. She was then told that one person had changed their vote, which perked her up enough to get her stomach pumped and about 30 minutes later had recovered enough to chase the remaining three votes (you may detect my cynicism here!). By midnight she had exactly half the votes...

The ballot on Monday morning repeated this vote: her job was lost. At this late hour, her boss rode to the rescue and offered to both pay the bonus AND give her a job...BUT at the expense of not renewing another workers contract in a few weeks time. At last, solidarity came into the film as Sandra refused the offer and she walked off, unemployed, but feeling happy at last. Don't get me wrong, there was still some great points in the film – Marion Cotillard's acting was superb as Sandra and the script was good – and most of the audience enjoyed it a lot. I just thought it could have been a lot better.

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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