Two Days, One Night (2014)

Deux_jours,_une_nuit_posterIf people watch Two Days, One Night, they’ll probably recognize one face and you’ll hear something similar to the following: “That’s the girl from Inception and the Dark Knight Rises right?” The more observant viewer might say something like: “Isn’t that Marion Cotillard?” And they would be right on either of these accounts and yet the Dardenne Brothers (who the average viewer, unfortunately, might not know), take Ms. Cotillard and place her in a completely different type of role altogether. They take an A-List Hollywood star and drop her in the every day, lower class world that the brothers themselves came out of. In fact, the story and most of their stories are set in Seraing, a French-speaking area of Belgium that is known for industry.

They have an immense fascination in simple people just trying to make ends meet. Most of their stories have mundane narratives like The Kid with a Bike (2011), and Two Days, One Night is little different in that respect. It’s so basic in conception and yet in this banal and rough-edged world, the Dardennes find immense beauty.

Our chief subject is Sandra, a young woman who is married has two kids and has just battled her way back from depression. Undoubtedly it was a tough road, but she is obviously resilient and ready to get back to work. After all her family needs the money because her husband only works at a restaurant. But her whole reality is changed in a matter of minutes when she learns she will be laid off. Her company can either keep her on or give all their other employees bonuses. The majority took the bonus over Sandra. Her work friend Juliette buys her another ballot for the following Monday, so Sandra has a few days to try and plead her case. But she’s done fighting. She’s tired and defeated before she begins. It’s her husband Manu who urges her forward and reluctantly Sandra follows through.

This is the core of the film as Sandra goes from home to home, ringing doorbells, and talking with the people hidden away in their homes. They are no longer her faceless colleagues, but soon they become living, breathing people. Just like Sandra, they have a personal stake in this decision. Maybe it’s to pay for a daughter’s schooling, remodeling a home, or trying to stay afloat as a single parent. There are those who are simply fearful of being laid off and those who hope that Sandra will succeed while admitting they’ll vote for the bonus. They all seem like generally legitimate responses, and Sandra knows that just as we do, but she tries anyway, at least to talk with them–get them to see her side. Because this decision has major repercussions, and it’s not just occurring in a vacuum.

Things are teetering dangerously on the edge of equilibrium for everyone involved because everyone seems to be between a rock and a hard place. And there’s no difference between Marion Cotillard and all these other unknown actors. They’re all bracing themselves for sinking in the same boat.

In a way I found myself comparing this film to the courtroom drama 12 Angry Men because in a similar manner Sandra must go about trying to convince her colleagues to change their minds, and talk them out of their convictions. It’s a difficult task, and this film speaks to the logic and rationale that dictate human decisions. There are individuals all across the board from those who only are looking out for themselves. Is it too hypocritical to call them selfish? It’s hard to know. There are those who want to good, but just cannot, and finally those who stand by Sandra, because they feel it is the right thing to do. The most painful of these interactions occur with those colleagues, who are so conflicted inside. You can see the situation at hand tearing them apart.

Other directors would be terrified of such a film, looking to fill slow moments with some kind of heightened state of action. The Dardennes are content with having their actors rock out to Them’s “Gloria” after a long day. And true, there are many moments of tension and even conflict, but most of this film is about people talking, mirroring the rhythms of real life. The camera is constantly by Sandra’s side, peering at her face, and staying on her hip. Her face has to carry some scenes at times, and it does so wonderfully. Really, this is a film that displays her resilience, grit, and determination to push forward. It had the potential to be either feel-good drama or a tragic story, but it finds a beautiful middle ground. Sandra comes out an undisputed winner, just not in the way that she expected.

4.5/5 Stars

Midnight in Paris (2011): Lessons in Nostalgia

midnightin1Midnight in Paris begins with scene after scene of the Parisian landscape. It gives off the feel of a lazy vacation, strolls in the park, sidewalk cafes aplenty, and even romantically rainy afternoons. For those who have never been to Paris, it makes you fall in love with the city in only a matter of minutes. Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is such a person who would easily be content with the Left Banke, Baguettes, and a chance to write his latest novel.  There is an air of wonderment that pervades his very being. He’s often naive and unassuming — hardly someone you would peg for a big Hollywood success story.

He’s about to be hitched to Inez (Rachel McAdams), a young woman who epitomizes the affluent American girl who was used to getting everything she wanted from dear old dad. Now she’s going to marry rich and maintain her lifestyle. Her life is a continual conveyor belt of first world problems. Such as buying a pair of 20,000 euro chairs in an antique shop. Meanwhile, she is easily impressed by puffed up pontification.

When she runs into an old school friend Paul (Michael Sheen) and his wife, all Inez wants to do is listen to him talk. After all, he knows about painting, philosophy, wine, and about anything else a stuffy intellectual should know. To coin a phrase he’s a contemptuous, conceited bag of hot air,  or as the museum guide (Carla Bruni) so aptly puts it, “a pedantic gentleman.”

midnightin4For obvious reasons, Gil cannot stand spending time with his wife’s friends. Instead, those breezy, absent-minded walks down the lanes are more his taste. Inez can’t begin to understand why he does it, but one night he’s in for a big surprise. One minute he’s  out for a stroll and then the clock chimes twelve. All of the sudden something a la Cinderella happens. A coach pulls up, Gil tentatively gets in not knowing what he has just stumbled upon, incognizant of the adventure ahead of him.

What follows are the most whimsically joyous moments of the film. Gil has wandered into 1920s Paris, and it’s beyond his wildest dreams. It’s practically paradise with the music of Cole Porter, dancing, pretty girls, and the biggest names you could ever hope to meet. In fact, you can tell Woody Allen has great pleasure in bringing to life such visionaries as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Piccaso, Salvidor Dali, Luis Bunuel, and so on.

It’s too much fun to be critical of historical accuracy. After all the Fitzgeralds throw wonderful parties, Hemingway gives Gil romantic advice, and he gets his fledgling novel read by none other than Stein. All the while Gil returns to the present giddy with excitement about what he has experienced, but Inez has none of his appreciation for nostalgia. She’d rather go dancing with Paul because he’s so refined.

midnightin2The linchpin of the whole story is really the ravishing French beauty Adrianna (Marion Cotillard), the muse of Picasso, the desire of Hemingway, and a new-found friend of Gil. He cannot help but be enraptured by her grace and the time they spend together is wonderful, that is until he tells her that he is pledged to be married. Although, it looks like he and Inez will not be together much longer as they continue to drift further and further apart.

It’s in one of his last visits to the past that Gil makes the startling discovering that Midnight Paris hinges on. He realizes Adrianna dreams of the turn of the century as he dreams for the roaring twenties. Toulouse Lautrec, Gauguin, and Degas dream about the majesty of the Renaissance. In such a revelation lies a valuable lesson (“I was trying to escape my present the same way you’re trying to escape yours, to a golden age”).

In doing so Gil comes to appreciate his present, because life may be unsatisfying at times, but perhaps maybe that’s the way it should be. Otherwise, we would never know what true joy or excitement or love is. There would be no change, no threshold to truly experience life as it is. Gil can go back to his nostalgia shops and Cole Porter hit parades and that’s alright. But now he’s found a Parisian girl (Lea Seydoux) who shares his affinity for long walks in the rain. This is certainly a fairy tale ending, but then again this whole story is a fantasy. In getting a little bit sentimental Woody Allen really gifted his audience something unmistakably special. Owen Wilson was fantastic as was Marion Cotillard.

4/5 Stars

Midnight in Paris (2011)

8d293-midnight_in_paris_posterDirected and written by Woody Allen and starring Owen Wilson, this film is a nostalgic piece of romantic fantasy. 

Gil is a successful screenwriter, who is attempting to finish his first novel, and he is in Paris with his wife (Rachel McAdams). She dismisses his work on a nostalgia shop because she feels it is not as worthwhile as his screenwriting career. Gil is infatuated with everything about Paris, while his wife is content with fine dining and shopping with her parents and wine tasting with stuffy friends. 

Then one evening Gil wanders the streets of Paris, and at Midnight a 1920s style car pulls up and he is invited in. Over the course of the evening, he meets the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, and even Ernest Hemingway, who agrees to read his manuscript. The following night he brings his wife but she leaves and he is picked up once again at midnight. This time he talks with Hemingway, meets Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and the beautiful Adriana (Mario Cotillard). Gil continues to return at night much to his wife’s annoyance and his father-in-law’s disapproval. He meets legendary surrealists such as Salvador Dali, Man Ray, and Luis Bunuel, who he inspires with his conversation. 

He finds Adriana’s diary in the present and meets a fellow aficionado (Lea Seydoux) of the olden days. Gil returns to the 1920s and Adriana convinces him to go back to the 1890s where they meet Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, and Degas. This is where Adriana is happy and despite their love, Gil realizes that even though nostalgia is good it is best to live in the present. Gil gets some final feedback on his manuscript and then breaks up with Inez, realizing it was not meant to be. However, Gil finally does find someone who shares his love of Paris in the rain. 

Allen made this film really enjoyable for me because he brought to life many people such as Hemingway, Dali, Bunuel, and others. This type of history fascinates me much like Gil, and it was fun to see these figures represented in the flesh by the likes of Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates, and Adrien Brody. That being said, this film carries a good lesson about living your life in the present. I would have initially said that Owen Wilson seemed wrong for this film, but I think he did a wonderful portraying Gil as a man mesmerized by the golden days of Paris.

4/5 Stars

 

Inception (2010)

Starring Leonardo Dicapprio, Joseph Gordon-Levit, Tom Hardy, and Ellen Page with direction by Christopher Nolan, the film follows the elaborate plot to plant an idea in someone’s mind. Dom Cobb is skilled at entering into peoples’ minds in order to steal ideas. However, in order to get back to a normal life now he must plant something instead. He gathers a team to help him enter the dreams successfully. However  they are not just going one level down but in fact several tiers into the mind. This will make  each successive perception more unstable and perilous. The team enters the first dream fine but soon they realize that their influential subject has built up defenses in his dreams. Furthermore, if they die the dream will not simply end but they will all be trapped in limbo. With those problems they enter the second tier and then the third and so on. Ultimately, Cobb must face one of his own realities or else all is lost. This film is so intriguing because it is different and in many ways it blows your mind (including the ambiguous ending).

5/5 Stars