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Friday 29 August 2014

Deux Jours Une Nuit (Two Days One Night), Film written and directed by Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne, starring Marion Cotillard, 10* out of 10

Filmed in a realistic documentary style, Deux Jours Une Nuit (Two Days One Night) is social drama at its best. The Dardennes' excellent screenplay shows the impact of a difficult moral dilemma on relationships at work, within the family and among friends. Marion Cotillard’s performance is brilliant.

In many a fairy-tale the hero has to accomplish a seemingly impossible task to win a cherished prize. In the process he learns about his own strength and weaknesses and finds out, who his true friends are.

At first sight the Dardenne-brothers’ latest film Two Days One Night is about as close to being a fairy tale as the fictional Captain Picard’s Starship Enterprise is from planet earth; but on closer inspection…

Sandra (Marion Cotillard), just recovered from a bout of depression, is ready to return to her workplace at SunWal a small enterprise producing solar panels in Wallonia, the economically declining French-speaking part of Belgium. SunWal’s owner/manager has decided that in order to survive in an extremely competitive market, he has to cut costs to improve productivity.  This being Europe, the boss believes in co-determination: workers on his shop floor will get some say in in this; he will determine the what it is they can decide on.  The question on which lets them organise a vote, is whether to let Sandra go and everyone else keep their annual bonus (of EUR 1000) or to keep Sandra on and everyone give up their annual bonus.  After a first vote that results in a clear majority for letting Sandra go turns out to have been irregularly influenced by the foreman, the boss agrees that the vote should be retaken. Although she still suffering from the after effects of her depression, Sandra, encouraged by her friends and urged on by her husband (Fabrizio Rongione), has the weekend to campaign on her own behalf before the vote will be retaken.  She is reluctant to do this, but knows that without her salary her young family will be in dire straits. As she canvases her 16 colleagues asking for each one’s support the social drama of the aftermath of the financial crisis in Europe and the dramatic side effects of globalization on people’s lives is brought down to a human and personal level that is genuinely moving.

Filmed in a realistic documentary style, Two Days One Night is social drama at its best. The Dardennes' excellent screenplay shows the impact of a difficult moral dilemma on relationships at work, within the family and among friends. The suspense as to the outcome contrasting with the understated style of direction and acting serves to amplify the strong emotional impact on the audience.  While maintaining their social realism throughout, the Dardenne-brothers manage to leave the audience with some optimism about the strength of the human spirit. Amid an excellent ensemble cast, Marion Cotillard shines with a brilliant performance as the struggling Sandra having to stand up for herself while fighting for her job, her family and her sanity. Highly recommended.

Thursday 28 August 2014

Lucy, Film written and directed by Luc Besson starring Scarlett Johansson, 6* out of 10

After a promising start Luc Besson’s Lucy, becomes an aimless and perhaps largely unintended parody of life, the universe and everything. Nevertheless, visual effects and Scarlett Johansson’s screen-presence make it very watchable.

Lucy, a street-smart young woman is being tricked by her new Scandinavian boyfriend to help him with the handover of a locked attache-case with unknown content at a 5* star hotel in Taipei. This and what follows in the next 30 minutes of this film could have been a promising and visually captivating start to an action classic.

Thereafter, while the action film part moves on, its main protagonist is under the influence of an accidentally absorbed overdose of a wonder drug that makes more and more of her brain capacity available to her - at a price. Lucy reverts physically to adapt to life in a state of nature as defined by the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. Mentally she reaches incredible heights of academic performance while emotionally turning into a parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger's classic "Terminator" without the cute Austrian accent and the muscled man-boobs.

Meanwhile, the film script loses itself in pseudo-scientific eccentricities and pseudo-philosophical speculations intended to give meaning to the impressive visual effects and Lucy’s 24-hour Odyssey. 

Nevertheless, what makes this movie still fun and quite watchable is Johansson’s screen presence and the visual effects linking the development of her character's brainpower to a short history of the world from Big Bang to our dissolution into disembodied ubiquity by means of a mobile phone and a USB-stick.