Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the Belgian directors of The Kid with a Bike, L’Enfent, Rosetta, and most recently of Two Days, One Night (in limited release on Wednesday) are masters of working-class realist angst. Their films are largely music- and affect-free tales of the harrowing struggles of working-class people, often with an eye toward children in economic and emotional peril.
Two Days tells the story of a struggling parent named Sandra (played by Marion Cotillard) who is about to be fired from her mid-level office job so that her co-workers may receive a large bonus, a fate that would mean ruination for her family. Over the course of the next 36 hours, she has to trek to her co-workers’ homes and convince them not to take their bonus in order for her to keep her job.
CraveOnline had an opportunity to sit down with the Dardennes (and their translator) to discuss their new movie, their technique of naturalism, their economic inspirations, and even their philosophical and theatrical influences.
CraveOnline: Your films are very natural, but also very damning. I understand Rosetta sparked legislation changes in Belgium. Is political and active social change now a goal of yours?
Jean-Pierre Dardenne: It’s true that when we start to make a movie, we don’t think that it’s going to be like water off of a duck’s back. It’s true that we do think that the audience member will be subject to a change – a change inside of them – but not in the way a propaganda film would. I think in the case of this movie, in the case of Sandra, who repeatedly says “Put yourself in my place, put yourself in my shoes,” it puts the audience member in the position to constantly put themselves into her shoes, or into someone else’s shoes. That process that the audience member goes through allows them to question having solidarity, not having solidarity, what’s it’s like to be like in someone else’s shoes? That who process is a process that invokes some sort of change.
“Yesterday in Brussels, there were 120,000 people in the street protesting the lowering of salaries.”
How factual is the story? Is this sort of thing common in Belgium?
Luc Dardenne: The starting point of the story – a boss who, with the agreement of the employees, is able to vote another employee out – that part of the story is based on a true story. Now we know that theoretically a boss does not need other employees to be in agreement with him to fire an employee; he can fire him on his own. But by doing this, by having a vote, and by making it a team decision, he creates a good ambiance in terms of that working team.
Is this common? I don’t know if we can say. But it’s happening more and more. It’s more and more frequent. Why? Because we’re going through a tremendous economic crisis that is creating a societal upheaval. And it’s true when a business is going through a crisis, it’s doesn’t necessarily come to this kind of a conclusion. It can be that a certain number of employees accept a pay cut for maybe a few months in order to keep things going. And that conserves a certain kind of solidarity within the team.
Jean-Pierre Dardenne: And you saw that in the film, there was no union rep. That’s because, in our country, if you have a company that has less than 50 employees, there’s no obligation to have any kind of union.
Luc Dardenne: Yesterday in Brussels, there were 120,000 people in the street protesting the lowering of salaries. Just yesterday.