Two Days, One Night (2014)
Now that, as they say, was a day. Legging it over to Waterloo to meet up with one of my oldest consultancy colleagues and brief her on my current situation, then over to the elite environs of the Mall for a very promising appointment with some new potential accomplices. With the day-job responsibilities exhausted it was time to have some fun, so after a tourist dodging stroll into St. James Park we alighted on a spot of lunch at Victoria Street before an inaugural visit to London’s newest cinema, the aptly monikered Curzon Victoria. More on that later but our international readers I’m sure will be fascinated to read that as a politically attuned animal wandering in the environs of Whitehall always yields results, and this time I spotted a terrible trio of our previous mayor Ken Livingstone, Caroline Flint MP and most amusingly Lembit ‘Don’t call me Cheeky’ Opik. I was feeling a little nostalgic if I’m honest, this was right next door to Westminster City Hall where I began this career a mere dozen years ago, the entire area has changed quite dramatically from the collection of banks, sandwich shops and rather run-down primary retail establishments when this was my daily stomping ground, you can really see the public realm effects of the vast volumes of development money that has been poured into the capital over the past decade. I’ll spare you further fascinating details on the scope of economic development and regeneration as again we must divorce the day job from the blog, but it was quite striking to see a film primarily concerned with the desperate struggles of the blue-collar proletariat in such auspicious surroundings, proving that the Dardenne brothers are continuing their spirited yet subtle examinations of socio-economic divides on the continent in another masterfully made film.
Unfolding through the titular time period Deux Jours, Une Nui is a snapshot in the life of Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a young depressed mother who is facing redundancy from her life saving manufacturing job. Barely able to leave the house and face the outside world she faces a titanic task – to meet and convince sixteen work colleagues that they should forego their eagerly awaited €1,000 bonus so she can retain her job, a prospect made even more implausible given that she has been signed off with depression for the past few weeks. Her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) is empathic and supportive as he can be, but Sandra must face this humiliating ordeal alone, in order to keep her children with a roof over their head and food in their bellies. Despite flirtations with more traditional storytelling tools in their previous picture The Kid With The Bike the Dardennes have stripped their movie-making back to the austere essentials, the style is forged with the immediacy of hand-held cameras, long takes, naturalistic performances, with absolutely no score or anything other that diagetic sounds – traffic, birdsong, distant conversation. Pushing aside the terrific performances and skill in which such a frivolous premise becomes such gripping cinema the film works as a wonderful metaphor of current austerity politics, it’s poisonous social & propaganda engineering, an effective campaign to divide and conquer by turning the working and (increasingly) the middle classes against each other. Propagate such nebulous concepts as ‘immigrants’ stealing all our jobs and benefit scroungers leeching from the fruits of your labour , whilst slightly ignoring the unalterable and granite economic facts of the vast majority of benefits claimants working hard and having to fucking claim benefits in order to manage exorbitant and savage rents, or of the vast net economic contribution of immigrants which have net benefited my country, roughly speaking, since the 11th fucking century. Sandra faces this lack of solidarity and the politics of the individual throughout the film, but it also delivers some surprises with a few reactions which almost reinstalls a dormant faith in a common humanity.
As we all know I love nothing more than a particularly twisted horror film, of giggiling as shrieking innocents have their bowels clawed from their quivering torso’s like so much crimson confetti to feed the eternal hunger of ravenous demonic wraiths, but Two Days One Night is one of the most harrowing experiences I’ve suffered throughout 2014 from a pure emotionally violent perspective. Witnessing Sandra humiliate herself again and again is a truly gruelling experience, steadying her fragile emotional state she becomes an incredibly brave person, drawing on unseen reservoirs of strength throughout her 48 hour ordeal. Quite brilliantly some of her beeschers reactions are unexpectedly supportive, others terrifyingly violent and abusive, and Cotillard’s performance which ricochets from humble gratitude to resigned acquiescence sweeps across her face in a quietly powerful performance. If I had one gripe there is a major event which is swiftly glossed over in order to maintain the films oscillating structure and internal momentum, it doesn’t ring true and although the incident finds dramatic purchase in the films final scenes it does disrupt the Dardenne carefully attuned social-realism. Everything is seen through Sandra’s eyes, she is in every scene and the absolute protoplasmic force of the entire film, the camera never lingers to catch the reactions or conversations of others after she concluded her interactions, so we are firmly implanted in symbiotic empathy without manipulation – no close-ups, no character anthems, and dialogue steeped in improvised waters.
As for the cinema its outward appearance is duplicitous, like much of central London the developers have delved deep into the earth, as a modest initial concourse descends to a relaxing plaza with an ornate bar and seating areas, annexing out to the cinemas five modest screens. It’s all Curzon brand spanking new with cosy and newly upholstered fixtures and fittings, and as you’d expect from the a chain dedicated to the ‘cinema experience’ the screens are legitimately sized with state of the art sound and image projection. It might be a little pricey for some at 15 quid a ticket – especially since some of the fare on offer like Two Days, One Night was simultaneously available on VOD through the on-line platform – but the matinée screenings are more modestly pitched at 9 quid. I’m assuming you can guess my preference to seeing a film on a big screen as god intended, compared to streaming to a fucking laptop or worse yet a fucking phone? Anyway this was a terrific film ideal for the Curzon brand – art-house aligned but accessible, prestigious and thought-provoking, and Cotillard continues her reputation as one of the best actresses currently at work;