We could not be more thrilled to open Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s latest movie, TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT, January 9 at the Royal and January 16 and the Playhouse and Town Center. The Belgian brothers behind L’Enfant and The Kid with a Bike recently spoke with Larry Rohter of the New York Times about their new film, which for the first time features a genuine movie star, Marion Cotillard:
Another Oscar season, another snub for the Dardenne brothers. Their “Two Days, One Night,” Belgium’s submission for the Academy Award for best foreign language film, won various festival and critics’ awards, as well as a European Film Award this month for Marion Cotillard’s taut performance as a factory worker whose job is in jeopardy. But the drama did not make the cut for the Oscar shortlist — the fourth time that the Dardennes, two of the most acclaimed European filmmakers, have been passed over by Hollywood.
In “Two Days, One Night,” which opened on Wednesday, Ms. Cotillard plays Sandra, who has been fired from her assembly line job at a small solar panel plant, but has been given a tiny ray of hope: If she can persuade a majority of her fellow workers to forgo the bonus they are to receive upon her dismissal, she will be reinstated. Over a frantic weekend, she visits her coworkers at home or at play, and encounters the most diverse of responses.
“We were working on another screenplay, but then, with the repercussions of the economic crisis that came in 2008 but really started to show up in 2011 and 2012, there were industries that started to shut down, not just in our region, but in France, Spain, Italy, Greece, all over Europe,” said Luc Dardenne, who, at 60, is three years younger than his brother, Jean-Pierre.
“That’s when we said to ourselves, ‘It’s timely to do this film now.’ ”
In October, the Dardennes visited to talk about “Two Days, One Night,” which had its United States premiere at the New York Film Festival and had already been chosen as Belgium’s Oscar entry. In an interview, conducted through an interpreter, they discussed the origins and guiding spirit of the movie, as well as their difficulty in connecting with Oscar voters. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation:
Q. You’re on record as having said you wanted to make this movie for at least a decade. Why?
JEAN-PIERRE DARDENNE: Ten years ago or so, there was a book edited by Pierre Bourdieu, a series of sociological studies called “The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society.” The book had probably 15 case studies and 15 analyses, and one of these stories was a worker cast aside because of the influence of managers, who got the other workers to agree to push him aside. This worker was probably a little less productive at his job, and therefore that team was never getting its bonuses. Luc and I talked about this story numerous times, and we just never could get it off the ground. Until other factors tied into it. So it’s that story, which has to do with a lack of solidarity, that got us going.
Q. Part of your usual process is to work with a cast that doesn’t have big international names in it. This time, though, Marion Cotillard is a major figure. Tell me about that decision.
JEAN-PIERRE: It’s true, at the start, we did want to work with a star. We wanted to see if it was possible to integrate a star into our family and to see if she would be able to function as a member. We’d seen her in a number of movies, but said we have to meet her. And we had a great excuse: we were co-producers of [her 2012 drama] “Rust and Bone,” so we went to the set, and Luc and I said, “If we feel a connection, then we’ll say to her, ‘We’d like to work with you.’ ” And that was the case. It was cinematic love at first sight. For both of us.
Q. You portray a very European situation in this film. What kind of impact do you think it will have here, where the situation for workers may be even worse?
JEANPIERRE: We all live in the same world, and that’s a world in which everyone is pitted against each other constantly. Our society exacerbates the feeling of competition we have with each other. It’s always “You have to be the best, you have to be the strongest.”
LUC DARDENNE: Yes, and Sandra’s problem is not just losing her job, because worse than losing your job is to become isolated, when nobody comes to see you, and you lose your connection with others. That’s a big part of what her issue is. The real thing today is solitude.
Q. You’ve used the word solidarity several times in this interview. But if I remember correctly, nobody in the film ever says the word, do they?
JEAN-PIERRE: No, they don’t. The words they do use are: “Put yourself in my place. And in my place, what would you do?” The trajectory of the film is not one in which Sandra goes up against a dozen bastards. Really, to be in solidarity is to be able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, and what was important to us was to place the same importance on Sandra’s coworkers as on Sandra. We’re hoping that the audience member will identify with the characters and think, “What would I do?” That he’s not going to be sitting there casting judgment on who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.
Q. You’ve had a really good record at Cannes, but with the Oscars, not so much. Have you ever thought about why that might be?
JEAN-PIERRE: We don’t really know the whole Oscar process, but it’s starting to be more familiar. But we hope that, movie after movie, there is going to be a click. I prefer to have that perspective of hope.
LUC: We knew “Rosetta” [their 1999 film about a teenage girl’s struggle to escape poverty and her alcoholic mother] was not going to go anywhere, because we saw the pre-screenings, and people were walking out. At the end of the movie, there were 10 people in the audience. So we said to Belgium: ‘It’s not worth sending this film. It’s not going to win.’ But they did it because we had won the Palme d’Or.
JEAN-PIERRE: But we’re good guys. So maybe one day it will work.