Michael Bodey

on the Dar­denne brothers’ lat­est film Two Days, One Night

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents -

THE Dar­denne brothers — JeanPierre and Luc — have carved a unique niche as dar­lings of the ne­o­re­al­ist cin­ema tra­di­tion. Since La Promesse, their 1996 de­but, the Bel­gians have been widely lauded while re­main­ing unerring in their stylis­tic and nar­ra­tive style.

They make their films in and around Seraing, the Bel­gian town in which they were raised. They cast lo­cal ac­tors, shoot chrono­log­i­cally and fo­cus their sto­ries on the tra­vails of the work­ing class.

Those tra­vails ap­pear to have be­come more press­ing as in­dus­tries wither and wages are squeezed. Their lat­est film Two Days, One Night — re­viewed by David Strat­ton on Page 14 — gives them great voice.

Even by the Dar­dennes’ stan­dards, this tale is a sparse one. It tells the story of San­dra (Mar­ion Cotil­lard), a quiet mother and wife who must fight to re­turn to her in­dus­trial job after a pe­riod of med­i­cal leave. Her boss tells her co-work­ers he can pay her salary only if they forgo their

1000 ($1400) bonuses. She is given the ti­tle’s “two days, one night” to con­vince the 16 mem­bers of her team to vote for her re­in­state­ment; the Dar­dennes, how­ever, are largely non-judg­men­tal about the “cor­rect” ac­tion.

The film, like many of the pair’s works — The Son, Rosetta and The Kid with a Bike — strikes the viewer as a po­tent call to arms, although Jean-Pierre Dar­denne says, “There isn’t a hid­den agenda.”

The brothers had toyed with the character of San­dra for a decade un­til the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis in 2008 made the no­tion of a worker bar­gain­ing with her peers, as op­posed to man­age­ment, a more press­ing metaphor. They note some French com­pa­nies in re­cent months have sub­jected em­ploy­ees to such a choice: be­tween self-in­ter­est and com­pas­sion. The character of San­dra is a stir­ring re­sponse.

“Ba­si­cally it’s the story of a woman who starts off with all the dis­ad­van­tages of iso­la­tion and so on, and at the end of the film she says, ‘I’m happy to have fought for what I stand for,’ ” Jean-Pierre Dar­denne says. The story’s logic, he adds, re­volves around the idea of some­one be­ing able to look at them­selves in the mir­ror and have a clear conscience.

“It is the story of some­one who comes to re­alise she is spe­cial,” he says. “Ba­si­cally the film is say­ing, ‘We have to fight for oth­ers as well. We have to fight to­gether, and if you’re look­ing for hap­pi­ness, then sol­i­dar­ity is one path.’ ”

The film was the favourite to win the Cannes Palme d’Or this year (it didn’t; the brothers pre­vi­ously have won the prize twice) and was awarded the Syd­ney Film Prize ear­lier this year.

Its im­pact is height­ened by Cotil­lard’s scin­til­lat­ing per­for­mance. The Academy Award win­ner for La Vie en Rose is the first non-Bel­gian ac­tor to work with the brothers.

“First of all, she’s an amaz­ing ac­tor,” 60-yearold Luc Dar­denne says.

“Also she ac­cepted all the con­di­tions that were placed upon her as some­one on the edge, on the mar­gin of so­ci­ety. There were no spe­cial con­di­tions for her: no cars, no make-up, no spe­cial cos­tumes or any­thing like that. She was

Two Days, One Night; in the character and she was one of the group.” He notes Cotil­lard has the rare com­bi­na­tion of be­ing such a pres­ence but who also can be­come trans­par­ent. Cer­tainly, she en­velopes her­self in the character. It’s a trait nec­es­sary in the Dar­dennes’ films, which are al­ways in­ti­mately shot and emotionally un­spar­ing. Tech­ni­cally, the direc­tors put their star through the ringer, sub­ject­ing her to more than 50 takes on some scenes and shoot­ing the film in se­quence.

The 63-year-old Jean-Pierre Dar­denne ex­plains the ac­tors had six weeks of re­hearsals be­fore be­gin­ning more re­hearsals with their tech­ni­cal team.

“What is very im­por­tant is the ac­tors wanted that them­selves be­cause it would mean they get to the core of the character,” he says. “It is true, there were cases of up to 80 takes and sim­ply that was be­cause it was a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion and the char­ac­ters them­selves did not find them­selves.”

He ar­gues ac­tors need to move into “almost an au­to­matic re­flex, in ef­fect a stim­u­lus re­sponse in or­der to find the right voice and look”.

“There was a lot of it and it was re­hearsed, but it was almost like be­ing cut off and liv­ing in this world for that very long pe­riod un­til it be­comes au­to­matic and you almost give it with­out re­al­is­ing you’re ac­tu­ally act­ing it,” Jean-Pierre Dar­denne says.

That nat­u­ral­ism ex­tends to the chrono­log­i­cal film­ing, a prac­tice with which the brothers have stuck since their first film.

“That’s our way of telling the story,” says Luc Dar­denne. “But it is very im­por­tant for us to feed from what has al­ready been shot and con­tinue on that path.”

Of­ten they reshoot early scenes be­cause the jour­ney pro­gresses or­gan­i­cally, tak­ing them on a dif­fer­ent path.

Luc Dar­denne adds: “For the ac­tors, it’s the best way to work. They’re very happy to work that way be­cause the ac­tors feed chrono­log­i­cally from the pre­vi­ous se­quence and are pre­par­ing for the next one, so the flu­id­ity is there in their heads as well as on the screen. It is a co­her­ent way of work­ing and en­abling the ac­tors to com­pletely de­velop the path and help the story along.”

In do­ing so, the Dar­dennes have again drawn the best from col­lab­o­ra­tion to pro­pose a way beyond the mod­ern rise of in­di­vid­u­al­ism.

Two Days, One Night is in limited re­lease.

Main pic­ture, Mar­ion Cotil­lard as San­dra, a mother of two who must fight to keep her job in

left, film­mak­ers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dar­denne

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