Telluride 2014: World Economics 1, “Two Days, One Night”

The Telluride Film Festival screened films showing widely varying looks at economic conditions around the world. One of the strongest films at Telluride was “Two Days, One Night”, another notable writer/director collaboration from brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne of Belgium. The Dardennes have twice received the Palme d’Or, the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival for “Rosetta” (1999) and “The Child” (2005).

Marion Cotillard is superb as Sandra, a woman desperate to keep her factory job.  After returning from a sick leave, she finds her position will be downsized due to foreign competition.  After pleading, she is told by a factory manager she can keep her job only if she convinces the other workers over the week-end to give up their upcoming bonus.

Marion Cotillard  in “Two Days, One Night”

Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”

Over the weekend she must visit her coworkers and ask them to vote to give up their increase so that she can stay employed. The film has a fascinating complexity as, while Sandra is asking for her own job, she is fully aware of how much her coworkers would depend on the added income at their humble employment level.

Cotillard gives an emotionally intense performance as Sandra visits her fellow factory workers, embarrassed to ask for their sacrifice and feeling “like a beggar”, but knowing how necessary her employment is to her family’s economic struggle.  Cotillard is extremely moving as Sandra whose emotional state is precarious.

Sandra (Marion Cotillard)  and coworkers in “Two Days, One Night”

Sandra (Marion Cotillard) and coworkers in “Two Days, One Night”

The screenplay skillfully creates a variety of characters, so that each of Sandra’s visits is different, one even turning into a family fight. The film builds tension as Sandra, supported by her husband (Fabrizio Rongione) resolutely continues on her quest, seeking allies by the short deadline.

With “Two Days, One Night”, the Dardennes have widened the scope of their films. Their previous films looked at a character’s single personal story.  This one looks at a protagonist and her place in a larger group.

It’s been a strong year for Marion Cotillard. She is also memorable in “The Immigrant”, my favorite film of the year. Further thoughts:

Future posts will look the world economy through films from Russia and the US.


Telluride 2014: “Wild”

“Wild” has a potent opening set in the deserted wilderness. While dealing with a damaged toenail, Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) has an accident with one of her hiking shoes. The film is based on Cheryl Strayed’s autobiographical book about her attempt to change her life through a solitary hike on the Pacific Coast Trail, 1100 miles from Mexico to Oregon. This distinctive journey of discovery is enhanced by 2 award-caliber performances. The setting seemed appropriate for a film screened in the mountain setting at the Telluride Film Festival.

Reese Witherspoon  in "Wild"

Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”

In an exceptional, unflinching performance devoid of perkiness, Reese Witherspoon shows the depth of Cheryl’s despair caused by the death of her mother, leading to promiscuous sex and drug addiction. She also convincingly conveys Cheryl’s persistence on the trail. She’s inexperienced, initially nearly collapsing under the weight of what she carries on her back into the “Wild”.

Reese Witherspoon at Telluride      (c) Ed Scheid

Reese Witherspoon at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

In flashbacks, Laura Dern is outstanding as Cheryl’s mother whose warm love and determination holds her family together throughout harsh circumstances. Dern creates such a vivid presence and is such a life force that it is understandable that her loss would create such a void in her daughter’s life that Cheryl would spiral out of control. Cheryl described her mother as “the love of my life”.

Laura Dern at Telluride     (c) Ed Scheid

Laura Dern at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Director Jean-Marc Vallee (“Dallas Buyers Club”) does an impressive job of recreating Cheryl’s long hike, showing the natural beauty of the wilderness and the physical arduousness of the hike. Of dramatic importance, the film includes the variety of experiences, as well as the different travelers Cheryl encounters.

Jean-Marc Vallee at Telluride     (c) Ed Scheid

Jean-Marc Vallee at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Vallee skillfully intercuts Cheryl’s journey with intense scenes of her past that led to her decision to take the Pacific Coast Trail. Scenes with Dern are particularly moving. At an outdoor panel at Telluride, Vallee said that in the cutting room, he used flashbacks to include scenes “full of emotion” throughout the film, as a balance to the scenes Cheryl alone. This diversity keeps “Wild” absorbing throughout, unlike many “solitary trek” films such as the recent “Tracks”.