Sep 24, 2014

A Belgian "Norma Rae"

Sandra (Marion Cotillard) asks her boss for another chance at keeping her job in Two Days, One Night. (Photo courtesy of the New York Film Festival.)
This the second in a series of posts about The 52nd New York Film Festival.

Yesterday, the press at The New York Film Festival screened the new Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne feature Two Days, One Night (95 minutes), which stars French actor Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant, 2013). It will have its New York premier at the festival on October 5th and 6th.

If you have a soft spot for Martin Ritt’s Norma Rae (1979), this movie is for you. It is a bit of a slow burn, not the usual swift pacing of the Belgian filmmakers’ other movies, but worth seeing for its uplifting tale about a working mom fighting for her factory job. Sandra, who is recovering from a mental breakdown, has apparently had trouble readjusting to her work environment; that provides her boss with a ready excuse to reduce staff. The Dardenne Brothers are known for their authentic portrayals of working-class characters: Nearly all of their films are set in the industrial city of Seraing, in the Liege province where they were born and still reside. 

Sandra and her coworkers in a still from the Dardenne Brothers new feature film, Two Days, One Night. (Photo courtesy of the New York Film Festival.)

In preparation for her role as Sandra, Cotillard had to work on ridding herself of her “French” accent. Belgian French is differentiated semantically (and in other ways) from the actor's native Parisian French. The writer-directors rehearse their cast for about a month before filming, which allows the actors to establish a relationship and a way of work. This results in the incredible verisimilitude that is the hallmark of a Dardenne Brothers movie. Each of their films is also distinguished by wonderful performances, especially from actors who comprise their repertory troupe. Fabrizio Rongione, who plays Sandra’s loving husband Manu, is one of them.

Two Days, One Night is skillfully shot and edited, and provides a significant, although not weighty, portrait of middle-class life. The writer-directors’ previous movie, The Kid With a Bike (2011), which also premiered at the New York Film Festival, centers on a boy abandoned by his working-class father after his grandmother-caretaker dies. The Dardennes are best-known for Rosetta (1999), among the finest films ever made about an adolescent girl, which garnered them one of their two Palme d’Or awards at Cannes.
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