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Deux jours, une nuit (Two Days, One Night)

Posted by martinteller on September 17, 2015

This movie had extra relevance to me.  I was laid off from my job last month.  It came at a particularly bad time.  After I got the call, I wept.  It’s actually the third job in a row that I’ve been laid off from (over a span of 15 years, so not too tragic), not through any apparent fault of my own.  It’s because business is down, or because some larger corporation took over and made changes.  You know how it is… “it isn’t you, it’s us”.  It’s impersonal.  The Dardennes have put their protagonist in a more personal scenario (one that frankly seems a bit unlikely, but who knows how they do things in Belgium).

In my last job, I couldn’t have gone around to my fellow employees and asked them to give up their bonuses to save my job.  I worked remotely, from home.  Most of them I never met.  The ones I worked closest with never saw me face-to-face.  Why should they care about me?  And unlike Sandra (Marion Cotillard, who is spot-on perfect), my welfare wasn’t really at stake.  I made good money and would surely find a decent job before long (which I did), and my wife makes good money… we wouldn’t suffer.

Likewise, if the shoe was on the other foot, I can easily say I’d vote for Sandra.  But what if my family was struggling?  What if that bonus made a huge difference in our well-being?  Things are rarely so cut-and-dry in the Dardennesiverse.  Ethical questions have many facets, and as always, the brothers do a thorough job of exploring them from every angle.  The film’s structure — a series of conversations/confrontations with Sandra’s co-workers — help to ensure that.

I’ve realized I often have a soft spot for directors who work in a distinctive idiom and/or milieu. Ming-liang Tsai, Aki Kaurismaki, and Wes Anderson come to mind.  The Dardennes and their moral dilemmas are appealing to me, as is their no-frills style.  The performances they elicit are particularly honest, and the characters are rarely simple sketches.  And then there’s the focus on the working class.  While watching this, I thought of Woody Allen.  Because one of the things that puts me off about Allen’s movies even the ones I like) is that he so often focuses on highly-paid professionals, or artists & academics who are (often inexplicably) wealthy.  The realities of needing to work to survive seem to be completely alien to him, and irrelevant to his stories.  The blue collar world of the Dardennes is much more grounded and relatable… even though my own salary puts me in the upper-middle class.  Their stories feel far more worthwhile, and certainly more enlightening about the human spirit.

There is a Big Moment in the third act of the film.  It’s jarringly out of place, and although it doesn’t really do any harm, it definitely doesn’t help anything.  It’s just completely unnecessary and I was stunned that the Dardennes would go there.  And then it’s followed up by a minor character making a Huge Life Decision, which only compounds the problem.  If it wasn’t for this issue (and the mildly implausible premise), this film might be up there with their best work.  Instead, I rank it as one of their weakest, only above Lorna’s Silence.  But for these guys, that’s not saying much.  It’s still a riveting film, with excellent performances and a great ending.  Rating: Very Good (84)

IMDb
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