"Two Days, One Night" might be the best Dardennes movie yet. Marion Cotillard is mesmerizing in her role as Sandra, a young Belgian mother who discovers her co-workers were pressured to choose between getting a significant pay bonus and having her keep her job. The way Cotillard approaches each and every co-worker, pleading — sometimes even begging — for them to change their vote is heartbreaking. It’s a movie that once again places the talented directing duo on the short list of the very best filmmakers in the world today. I met up with them a few months back to discuss the process, Cotillard and the small details that make a Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne film so damn great.
Jordan Ruimy: What were the roots of this film?
Luc Dardenne : We've been working on the screenplay for a very long time. The character of Sandra was the main focus. We always saw that character as someone who was scared but who fought through adversity no matter how intense or frustrating the times got it. There were a few questions we wanted to answer 1) Against social insecurity, how can she rebuild? 2) At the end of this voyage Sandra had to turn into a new person, a sort of rebirth. We didn't know exactly how how we would get to that point, but we knew that it would end -one way or another- with Sandra saying "I'm not scared anymore".
JR: One of the interesting things about this film is that its episodic nature is revealed quite early in the film and that you know exactly what kind of film this is going to be.
LD: We had to to take this formula seriously. We always knew there would be suspense with each of the meetings she had with her co-workers. Who will open the door? Will they say yes or no? Given her psychological instability, how will Sandra take it? We know from the first few minutes that she isn't a fighter. At the end of all this will she be able to rally the troops and get them to vote for her. We always knew repetition or an episodic kind of film would make for good drama if done right. We purposely had her co-workers give similar replies, such as "put yourself in my position" or "what are the others saying". It was a also a case of: If we told you that 10 out of the 15 people agreed to change their votes, would you be less scared?
JR: Sandra doesn't really stigmatize her co-workers.
LD: It is not a story about good vs. evil. Every meeting is very complex. Sandra understands them and sometimes you feel as if she doesn't blame them for taking the bonus. Would she have done the same thing in their position? She might have, that's part of the complexities of the film. We purposely chose a small-scale company where there weren't enough workers for there to be a union. The film would have been very different if it was unionized.
JR: Most of your films have had less famous actors and that brought a feeling of realism to the surroundings. Cotillard is not an unknown actress, this was a stroke of genius in casting. What led you to choosing Marion?
Jean-Pierre Dardenne: Choosing a big name actress was a gamble and potentially dangerous for the realism we were going for, This became a somewhat exciting challenge for us, Marion found a way to deliver something she hadn't really delivered before, a new body, a new face, a new side to the Marion we all dearly knew.
We always wanted to work with Marion. We co-produced Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone and we wanted to meet when the film was going to shoot in Belgium. We met briefly for around 10 minutes. We actually wanted to cast Marion as a doctor for another screenplay we were working on. When we abandoned the doctor project, the character of Sandra came back to the fold and Marion was the obvious choice. It had to be Marion. We had to make sure she was fine with the role, since we abandoned the doctor project, her response was "I really don't care, I just want to work with you guys" We rehearsed for a month and a half, as we do with all our projects. All that rehearsal and repetition really prepared Marion to be as raw and bar bones for a role that is very complicated and layered with undertones.
LD: It became quite obvious we made the right decision the moment we started shooting. There was something in those eyes and the expressions on her face that instantly made it an ideal match.
JR: One thing that struck me is the color of the clothes Sandra wears. That -now iconic- pink top and other lively colors. Anything behind that?
LD: Good catch. We tried to dress up Sandra in colors that a person coming out of a past depression would wear. Colorful, never wanting to go back to the dark side. Even if at times she does fall off the bandwagon, the colors stay the same with the hope of going back to the light. We also were very careful with the shoes we chose for Marion to wear, the noise they made. We had the choice for lighter shoes but they didn't make any noise when she walked. We wanted every step heard on this journey she was in.
JR: Do you guys do many takes?
LD: Depends. For the scene where Sandra breaks down in the room we did around 81 takes. If we have a scene where we find the flow is not right we will say something like : « Now Marion, can you please take a shorter silence in between so and so words and say so and so a little faster » but really it all comes down to how it flows in the editing room, thats why getting many takes is sometimes a great thing. Our editing has a lot to do with the certain flow we are going for even before we shoot the movie.
JR: To end this interview I'm going to ask you guys a question that I tend to ask most filmmakers at the conclusion of an interview. Is there a movie that you've discovered recently that has renewed or solidified your passion for movies?
JPD: Too many to name. The last Jia Zhang-Ke was phenomenal. Abbas Kiarostami never disappoints. Wong Kar-Wai. "Boyhood" the last linklater was phenomenal.
LD: There's a great scene in that movie where the mother played by Patricia Arquette sits at the kitchen table and sends her son off to college and there's just such a simplicity and attention to detail that really just got to me. Everything in that scene just works right.