Chris Nineham reviews 'Two Days and One Night', a new film by the Dardenne Brothers
Do everything you can to see this beautifully judged film of our times. It is rare enough nowadays for a film to even touch on working lives. Two Days One Night is so immersed in the world of the Belgian working class that you come out feeling like you live in it. It is even rarer to find yourself experiencing a searching meditation on resistance in the cinema.
Two Days and One Night is a film about the consequences of austerity, and its evocation of depressed young mum Sandra’s life in a precarious world is heartrending, but the characters are not just victims. Unfashionably, the film’s main concern is with their personal and collective struggles and how they intertwine.
It is based on a simple story; Sandra's weekend-long struggle to convince her workmates to back her fight to keep her job in a small manufacturing company.
This simple idea unleashes a complex mix of emotions and sets us off on dizzying trains of thought. At one point of inertia and despair Sandra wonders out loud whether she even exists. Among other things the film’s power comes from being so perfectly pitched in the present. It starts from the bleak situation in which so many people are, it doesn’t romanticise working class life or provide pat solutions from the past, but it also aware of the potential of the pent-up anger beneath the surface of the neoliberal world.
The film is all about transition and change and how different aspects of our lives interconnect to shape our world and how we see ourselves. One of the most poignant moments comes when Sandra switches suddenly from anger to affection for her husband who is pushing her to take action and trying to protect her at the same time.
Most of all it is a film about decisions and action, almost a plea to reject fatalism. If the scenario flows very naturally out of the characters’ predicament, the marvellous thing is that the outcome is always dependent on what they do. Marion Cothillard's has been rightly praised for her subtle central performance as Sandra. Its brilliance lies in capturing the give and take between her and her colleagues and how it effects her morale and even her mental health. Her husband and a friend at work successfully encourage her to take up the argument with her workmates, but her confidence level swings wildly depending on the responses she gets.
Each of the encounters brings up in microcosm issues which face people everywhere groping towards collective organisation: low confidence, individualism, domestic worries, racism. Despite all the obstacles, Sandra’s hard won combativity has knock- on effects on her colleagues and ultimately changes her life too. This is a film with a super-charged emotional intelligence. It recognises that we are shaped by our environment, but works on the assumption that to be is to act.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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