Two days one night (Deux jours un nuit)J-P & L Dardenne (Bel/Fr 2014)Marion Cotillard; Fabrizio Rongione
Viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle, 6th Sept 2014;Ticket £7.30
I came out of this film, looked in the mirror and saw myself: Adrin Neatrour.My situation as a worker,of the second class order, employed in a medium sized housing business.My life periodically lived on the the edge of humiliation and fear.
‘Cover your back!’that’s what they say, ‘Don’t let the bastard managers get you.’
This is a film about the contemporary work situation.The Dardennes brothers probing the nature of work and work relations not only in the film script but also the structure style and manner in which their film is shot.
The Dardennes film is an exploration of the psychic conditions governing post industrial work conditions.An exploration that uses ‘Linda-machine’ as an individual subject in post industrial work-relations. In the post industrial landscape the workers are no longer slaves to machines, rather they are part of an extended apparatus comprising stream of just-in–time communications of which they are an integral part.The worker no longer tends the machine but in a sense they have to become machines/ or robots in themselves.There is no longer a collectivity of shared experience but a subjectivity of experience. In the face of the evolving micro management the possibility of shared dignity (in the face of oppression and class war) is replaced by individuated degradation.
Two days one night is a contemporary horror story.But unlike the quasi metaphoric forms that use the horror genre and exploit alien life forms, vampires, monsters, slashers and fuckers for affect, Two days one night is casually and prosaically actual everyday terror of work.
It examines how work has become a subjectivity of individuated entrapment. The nightmare is that workers find themselves living in a closed circuit of amplification wired up to the poles of desire and fear.A life defined by mortgages high end consumer products and debt generates desperation for work at whatever cost as the desire to pay off the mortgage intensifies the fear of losing one’s job.The consumer praxis: everyone must work, everyone must pay their dues to the ministry of fear.
Old school industrial relations were macro managed through politics and the laws governing collective rights.Biased against the worker as were these the institutions, class consciousness and opposition were significant positive psychic opperants in play under these conditions.Cut to today and the situation is quite different.The dominant pattern is the mitivesicro management of workers in comparatively small groups.Characterised by anxiety and dependence, the psychic opperants in play are compliance and isolation.Large numbers of managers monitor the states of mind ofcomparatively small numbers of workers assessing them not just for output but or attitude and psychological fitness for purpose.
I referred to the film as having an exploratory nature.By this I meant that the script probes in depth the relations and situation of Linda, the main character.Linda-machine has had a break down causing her to miss work for a time.When Linda-machine wants to start work again the company have discovered they don’t need her but that they do need to save money.The workers are given a choice:they can choose for Linda to return to work and lose their bonus, or keep the bonus money and choose that Linda loses her job.
The proposition put to the workers at the start of the film encapsulatess the worker’s dilemma.They are given choices, pre-selected choices which offer them illusion
of control over their future but deprives them of the autonomy of decision making.The multiple choice management tactic not only is a divisive but it forces the workers into emotional subjectivity exposing them to denigratory self examination and confirming them in psychic isolation.
So Linda undertakes, at the urging of her husband and friend a quest to ask her co-workers to save her job, to forego their E1000 bonus.But before she begins her odyssey of ritual humiliation it becomes clear that Linda-machine is really a broken machine. But no one wants to see that she is broken. Everyone including Linda-machine herself is governed by fear.It is too frightening to think that the psychic reality of post industrial work may be more than Linda-machine can tolerate. As she desperately pops the pills to keep herself up and running, husband, Manu-machine and friends increasingly pressurise her to plead for her job.Life is a rollercoaster of desire and fear whatever the cost.But the cost to Linda-machine is to her own existence. to work under these conditions is perhaps something she cannot do.It is killing her.But the question cannot even be formulated. Like machines she and her husband are simply wage earning robots: eating junk food, and making money for the bank under the guise of home ownership.And Linda herself realises the solidarity between herself and her husband is based on their entrapment in the apparatus of work and debt,not love.No sex in the machines.
As Linda-machine visits her fellow workers to ask them to save her job, the filmic nature of her ordeal reveals the apparatus.Like a terrible chasm it opens up beneath her feet forcing her to see into its depth.And she grasps that this apparatus with itscogs wheels gears and chains comprises the subjectivity of very people she is petitioning.Everyone is trapped in desire fear circuit which extracts from them its tribute of self loathing and humiliation. And of course through these others, she sees herself.It is the this reflected image of her debased self that nearly kills her.
Two days one night is a moral film. Like Bresson, the Dardennes ask a question in film and answer the question on their own terms. The moral core of Dardennes film is honesty. A truthfulness to the forces it sets into play. And this truth is not only expressed in the integrity of the script but also in the shooting and settings. Two days one night is shot as a series of long takes. The purpose is not the current fashion for long takes for their own sakes, but to provide the space for the actors to play out their roles in situation. It is situation rather than character that moulds the performances. Had Two days been shot conventionally as shot reaction shot, the scripting would have lost its force, reducing the dyadic meetings to a series of reactive expressive face moments.Shot as a long takes the actors released into situation can respond to its demands with honest constancy and without faked emotions.
The settings used by the Dardennes also carefully calibrate the regime of the contemporaryapparatus. Linda-machine’s house is a laboratory for living, but not the type envisaged by the Bauhaus.Her house is no longer a place of sanctuary, rather it is a nerve centre of a never ending inflow and outflow of communications. There is no peace only the agitation of demands and responses.The bedroom is not a place of sleep and love, but foetal pain; the bathroom a place of self medication; the kitchen a place to consume industrialised food.The house we see in Two nights and a day is a transformed space; no longer private but wired upto the apparatus of which it is a part.
The exterior Belgium settings do not comprise a world of: shops, malls, history.We see Belgium of the suburbs, of anyplacewhatsoever: standard red brick and concrete backgrounds. The ordinary, where the invisible processes of our society play out.Yet the Dardennes make extraordinary use of these modest vistas.As Linda makes the pitch for her job against the red and the grey, a transient beauty is glimpsed and sometimes it seems as if the brothers were exploiting a subtle code in background colour to express the quality of the negotiations.
As I said I came out of the movie looked in the mirror and saw myself.This is one of the Dardennes brothers very best films that quits on a note of optimism after unflinchingly revealing to ourselves what we have become.