If you can find the time – and cash – this January, and are lucky to be somewhere with good movie theaters, I highly recommend checking out the new movie by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Two Days, One Night. (In NYC it’s playing at the IFC for now.) It’s a quiet, multilayered film that I’ve continued to think about since watching last week.
A woman (Marion Cotillard, in an incredible performance) is told that she’s lost her job unless she can convince her co-workers at a solar panel manufacturing company in Belgium to give up their bonuses in exchange for bringing her back on. The movie is the story of the weekend she has to make the case to her colleagues, who she visits one by one across small towns and industrial suburbs where they live. I don’t want to give too much away, as it’s the kind of movie that invites reflection, and I think is great to see and chew on yourself. But I’ll make some observations here about what I’ve thought about these past few days.
Overall, the movie has rich stories to tell, very simply and powerfully, about stratification within the Belgian working class, including along lines of gender and ethnicity; the competition between workers fostered by the economy and promoted by management; and the meaning of and possibilities for solidarity. The ruthlessness of the economic situation(s) all of the workers find themselves in organizes the action of the film, but for the most part remains an uncontested backdrop: this is their reality, the world in which they must live as best they can. So the movie is about how they do that, what they understand about what they can and can’t do to change their conditions. Intense human reactions – people who act broken and strong, fallible and brave, selfish and loving – are played out in a spare and often alienated social landscape. It’s rare to see a film – or really any cultural form: book, play, tv show – that captures how economic forces shape us in such a miniature, personal, and emotional way.