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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Film

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday February 19, 06:42 pm
Score some cash or save a colleague? It’s a toughie.

TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT

Broadway

4/5

Marion Cotillard has appeared in a handful of Hollywood productions since winning an Oscar for La Vie en Rose, but her best work continues to take place in Europe. For every Dark Knight Rises(Cotillard was woefully miscast) there’s a gut-wrenching flick (Rust and Bone) or a poignant sociological study (Little White Lies) set across the pond.

The terrific Two Days, One Nightfollows the pattern, with a dressed-down Cotillard at the centre of a labour drama reminiscent of Roberto Rossellini’s best work. Cotillard plays Sandra, a worker in a solar panel plant on leave due to depression. Not quite out of the woods, Sandra receives awful news: her colleagues have agreed to a significant bonus plan — but one that would also lead to her dismissal.

But irregularities in the initial voting process force a new ballot, meaning Sandra now has 48 hours to convince at least half her coworkers to renounce the extra money and keep her employed. Not exactly the most stress-free way to spend a couple of days, so it’s no surprise that Sandra is popping valiums like candy.

Directed by the always interesting Dardenne brothers (The Kid with a Bike, L’Enfant), this has to be the siblings’ most accessible film to date: they have a recognizable name in the cast for a change, and Two Days One Nightis more action-packed than any of their previous (and rather minimalistic) efforts. Sandra’s crusade around town is a veritable tour of the blue-collar state of mind — and how age, gender and race affect the notion of solidarity with your fellow worker.

It’s not lost on anyone that this is a dilemma intentionally created by the factory’s higher-ups so they don’t have to deal with the repercussions — whatever the result turns out to be, the fallout will be entirely on the employees. Initially, the workforce is unwilling to even consider the possibility of returning their bonuses, but some are empathetic enough to put themselves in Sandra’s shoes.

Despite the episodic nature of the process, the Dardennes keep the proceedings moving smoothly and cohesively by goosing up the plot with relevant information at every step, and turning the would-be swing voters into fully formed characters — stars in stories of their own.

Cotillard is tremendous. Unlike other gorgeous actors who’ve tried to transform into a role by dressing down (Charlize Theron in North Country, for example), a fresh-faced Cotillard in dumpy clothing is quite believable. Her evolution from tired, depressed non-entity into someone willing to put up a fight is gradual — and in some ways, imperceptible. There are no epiphanies or grand gestures, just acts of kindness and selfishness that echo inside Sandra.

Without having to scorch the earth, towards the end the Dardennes pull a beauty of a twist that allows Sandra to experience the inner turmoil her coworkers are feeling. (It’s not what you think.) Her response demonstrates growth and serves as an example: if you don’t like the question, question the premise.

 

 

MCFARLAND

Cineplex

3/5

If there’s a kind of film that Disney can make in its sleep, that’s the inspirational sports movie. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a bad one, and once or twice they’ve transcended the normal limits of the genre (Miracleand The Rookie) to come up with something very good.

The formula (with some variations, depending on the real-life source of inspiration) always goes like this: a mediocre team gets an out-of-the-box addition, initial resistance is trounced, the team begins to win and everybody learns a valuable lesson during the final game.

And no other actor fits this type of movie better than Kevin Costner. His rugged, all-American look served him well as a “player” (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams) back in the day. Now, an aging Costner with a few extra pounds is perfect to play a coach-type.

In McFarland, the sport of choice is cross-country running. Costner is Jim White, a struggling teacher who accepts a job in an impoverished town in southern California, one with a predominantly Latino population. He’s a fish out of water of course, but adjustment difficulties aside, one thing that’s clear to White is that the school is home to plenty of resilient students who are also seriously fast runners (a by-product of living far away from school, and having to work to help at home).

McFarlandis filled with positive messages about the Latino community, and the notion of tight families is, for once, not played for mere laughs. (Yup, there’s a gang, but it’s just peripheral to the plot.)

In predictable Disney fashion, the races are thrilling, and the technical quality of the film is excellent, but they also allow reality to permeate the movie. The antagonists (mostly entitled, rich white kids and trainers) are far too cartoonish, but that’s a minor blemish in an otherwise pleasant family flick.

 

 

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY

Broadway

2/5

Historically, the British film industry has been edgier than anything America has to offer. Unfortunately, the two filmmakers at the head of that country’s avant-garde movement today might be pushing the envelope a bit too far.

Ben Wheatley and Peter Strickland (and to a lesser degree, it should be said, Jonathan Glazer) can be so dry that they can’t help but alienate audiences. Plots are left to the viewer to put together (A Field in England, Berberian Sound Studio), and there are very few clues in any of their films that provide assistance.

The Duke of Burgundyisn’t Strickland’s most difficult film, but it’s definitely his dullest. Two lesbian entomologists (what are the odds?) are involved in a complex BDSM relationship. (50 Shades of Greyhas nothing on these ladies.) Every single day, Evelyn — the youngest of the two — acts as a servant, cleaning Cynthia’s house and doing all kinds of menial tasks for free. Every violation of the rules means a punishment.

But wait: there’s a twist! Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it here.

Unless you’re really invested in the couple, The Duke of Burgundycan be tedious. That said, it’s a far more effective depiction of all the work that comes with a domination / submission liaison than anything 50 Shadeshas to offer. Sex is about 10 per cent of the whole relationship here, and it’s seldom titillating. On the plus side, the house of the dominant is always super-clean.

The film is carefully put together and couldn’t possibly look better — but just like a brilliantly executed painting, it doesn’t require two hours of my attention.

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