Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

27 September 2014

The Dardennes Do It Again

The final film that I was able to see from the Dartmouth version of Telluride was the Dardenne Brothers' Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, Une Nuit). The film is the kind of tense, emotional ride typical of the Dardennes' work, and I loved it.

The film is about a woman who works in a manufacturing plant. She has been on sick leave, but is recovered and has returned to work. At the plant (which has 16 workers plus her), the boss has decided that he can't afford to rehire her. He gives the other 16 employees the option to vote. Her coworkers must choose between getting a bonus or hiring the woman back.

She spends the titular two days and one night visiting each of her coworkers in turn to try to keep her job. The bonus is rather a lot of money, so this is an uphill battle and a very emotional one. The Dardennes always have the ability to raise the stakes on any plot. Their work is similar to the work of Asghar Farhadi in this way, except that the intensity of Farhadi's stories revolves around unfolding plot events. The Dardennes's stories just seem to unspool, to follow naturally from the initial event they've scripted.

Two Days, One Night is also very, very smart. It is an intelligent analysis and emotional representation of how capitalism works to divide people up, to teach us to see ourselves as individuals and understand the world as one where the choice is between our benefit and someone else's benefit. Two Days, One Night makes this crystal clear, and the journey of it is almost agonizing.

More than anything, though, this is a movie about very high stakes, about asking for assistance from the people in our lives and hoping that they will be willing to help us. In other words, it's about community, about nation, about working together at something in order to make the world better. Each time the film's main character has to ask for help, though, this prospect is absolutely terrifying. Two Days, One Night makes clear just how difficult community actually is.

Two Days, One Night is Belgium's official selection for the Foreign Language Picture Oscar. But the Dardennes have not been appreciated by the Academy, and Belgium has done better with Felix Van Groeningen and (surprisingly) Michaël R. Roskam. The last time Belgium submitted a Dardennes movie was in 2005 with L'Enfant. In the same year, Argentina submitted the last Fabián Belinsky film, El Aura, Canada submitted current Oscar darling Jean-Marc Vallée's excellent C.R.A.Z.Y., Hungary went with Lajos Koltai's gorgeous Fateless, and Romania selected Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. The Academy's nominations weren't all terrible: Sophie Scholl: the Final Days and Gavin Hood's Tsotsi made the cut. But the category was filled with mostly bad films: Paradise Now, Don't Tell, and the truly terrible Joyeux Noël. I'm crossing my fingers for the Dardennes this year.