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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Tu existes, Sandra !

This is a review of Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, Une Nuit) (2014)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

26 August

This is a review of Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, Une Nuit) (2014)

L'enfer, c'est les autres
Huis Clos ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

This film has all the qualities of 12 Angry Men (1957), i.e. self-interest meeting a desire for justice, but, to paraphrase what people still say, this time the struggle is personal. (It turns out that that reference is one also made by Peter Bradshaw (in his five-star review for The Guardian).)

Cleverly mixed with that personal importance is an element of impersonality, introduced by the documentary style of the blocking and shooting, which naturally makes us incline – much of the time – to sensing ourselves an observer to what Sandra (Marion Cotillard) is doing and reacting to. And so the moment when we have first have a smile from her is very effective – it has built upon the opening shot when she is sleeping, and then on our seeing her tension, feeling her tortured breathing, and witnessing her reliance on Xanax to cope with anxiety.

That smile is amongst several important moments in the car, where the intimacy of the space, because we have been out and about so much with Sandra (and with her husband Manú (Fabrizio Rongione)), gives us gives far more engagement with Sandra than we ever have with Tom Hardy’s shut-in Locke (2013) (even if that, too, is deliberate) : here, it is not that we are shut out, but that the arc of the film keeps us waiting until Sandra speaks to Timur (Timur Magomedgadzhiev), and we can confront his raw nakedness, guiltily recalling her past kindness to him (which even Sandra cannot quite have expected, or cope with).

Until then, there has been perfect politeness, even in refusals to help, and the spoken French has that polish much of the time, so that, when there is an eruption, it is there, too, in the language. When that moment with Timur – and the smile – comes, the restraint that has been upon us floods us with emotion at the same time, and the film-making has effectively, by its distancing and delay, caused us to have an experience of what the worst of depression can be like : as if removed from one’s own life, and with one’s capacity to relate to one’s family and situation suppressed.

In Rust and Bone (2012) (directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes numbered amongst its co-producers), Cotillard gave us one sort of rehabilitation, where mental adjustment to a huge change in life is part of the picture : here, the mind (and its vulnerabilities) is at the centre of things, with doubts whether someone can come back and do the same job as before, let alone how others’ words and negativity – however unintended – can undermine one’s feeling of worth and one’s belief in the point of what needs to be done.

When Sandra is woken by the phone and talks to her colleague Juliette, she is, from the start, trying to talk herself into an attitude towards what is happening (which some will recognize in We All Want What’s Best For Her (Tots volem el millor per a ella) (2013) - screening at Cambridge Film Festival 2014 / #CamFF), though the position in which Sandra finds herself only becomes visible to us with time. In the meanwhile, we guess at what she has been through, though her demeanour, gait and posture are indicative…

The film has much to show us : tell people that they can have something, and see how quickly that influences them – just as it does Henry Fonda’s fellow jurors to want to wind up their deliberations quickly, because establishing the truth is costly of their time. Without didacticism in the writing, because there is a wealth of responses to Sandra, we see that there can be this tendency, even when people have not yet got what was promised, and might well ask themselves at what cost (or what it says about them that they so readily make what they did not have before indispensable).

The additional dimension here, revealed fully towards the end, is that of some players who have been keeping their cards close to their chests, and seeking to get what they can. The film helps us to value qualities that have emerged in Sandra and her colleagues learning about each other, and from which she can take comfort. Ultimately, it offers no easy solutions, but it asks us the things that we can countenance for our convenience, an ending that takes us close to Robert Guédiguian's The Snows of Kilimanjaro Les Neiges de Kilimandjaro) (2011)(from Cambridge Film Festival 2012).

If you wish to read more, there is now a new piece about employment rights and Xanax...

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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