Magazine article Screen International

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Two Days, One Night

Magazine article Screen International

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Two Days, One Night

Article excerpt

Belgian auteurs Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne talk to John Hazelton about casting their biggest star yet, Marion Cotillard, in the workplace drama, Two Days, One Night -- Belgium's foreign language Oscar entry.

"We are a bit optimistic," says Luc Dardenne with a wry smile, switching briefly from Belgian French to English to stress a point about the starkly naturalistic but deeply humanistic dramas he writes, directs and produces with his brother, Jean-Pierre.

Since making their mid-1990s breakthrough with The Promise (La Promesse), the Dardennes have been feted worldwide for a run of films -- most of them set and shot in the Belgian town of Seraing, where the brothers were born and raised -- that follow the lives of working-class characters with roving handheld cameras and an unflinching moral eye. Both 1999's Rosetta and 2005's The Child won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, while 2011's The Kid With A Bike scooped the festival's Grand Prix.

Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, Une Nuit), which premiered in this year's Cannes Competition, continues the run but exhibits a touch more of that Dardenne optimism than was apparent in the earlier films.

Inspired by a real-life incident in the late 1990s and given an extra edge in the wake of the global economic crisis, Two Days follows troubled young mother Sandra -- played by French Oscar winner Marion Cotillard -- as she spends a weekend trying to win the support of fellow factory workers who have been forced by their boss to choose between their much-needed bonuses and the preservation of Sandra's equally needed job.

"We wanted to have a response to this incident and to what we saw happening in terms of a dissolution of solidarity in the workforce," explains Luc Dardenne, who at 60 is three years younger than his brother.

The measured optimism, adds Jean-Pierre, comes from Sandra's "struggle against the odds, and her getting to the point at the end of the film where she's able to get beyond the situation".

Casting a major international star in the lead role was a departure for the Dardennes, who usually use young or lesser-known actors. But Cotillard's involvement did not change the Dardennes' process, which involves extensive on-location planning and weeks of filmed rehearsals.

"There was a challenge in terms of bringing her into the process so that she wouldn't show up disparately against the other actors," Luc concedes. …

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