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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

entry arrow11:45 PM | Bad Weekend

The race for the 87th Academy Awards has essentially started with all the online punditry abuzz with each new screening -- and as usual, I want to do my annual unflagging attempt to seeing all possible films in contention, even before the official nominations come on January. This blog series aims to chronicle this effort.

I have never before watched any film directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, fearful that I might not be able to hack any of their grim social realism. But here I was, finally watching the Dardenne brothers' Deux Jours, Une Nuit (2014), Belgium's current submission to the Oscars, and finally I feel grateful for having overcome my own cinematic hesitance. The film very much feels like seeing a stripped down version of one of my favourite feel-good movies, Audrey Wells' Under the Tuscan Sun. In that 2003 film, Diane Lane plays an American writer who falls into the deepest of despairs, only to find herself having an accidental splendid new life in the beautiful Italian countryside. Hollywood fodder, of course, but I have always responded to that film's golden promises, if only because I want to see the grimness of everyday life processed through rose-colored glasses. The Dardennes don't offer any rose-colored glasses at all. Their filmmaking is stark and spare, with a pace and mechanism to it that feels almost voyeuristic, bordering on the documentary. And all that felt exhilarating to me. We follow Marion Cotillard's blue collar worker Sandra who has been battling a crippling case of depression, necessitating medical leave from her work. (Doing what exactly, we have no idea.) On the eve of her return to her job, a Friday, she gets a call informing her that she has been made redundant at work. She also learns that her fellow workers were made to vote between keeping her, or keeping a 1,000 euro bonus. (Of course, they chose their bonus.) But her employer has given her reprieve. She has the chance of getting a new round of voting on Monday. Now, all she has to do is to convince the majority to give up their bonuses to keep her job. And the film follows her as she does her excruciating round of visiting each co-worker, begging them to reconsider. Some are understanding, some are angry, some don't want to see her at all, and some are downright violent and hostile. Her journey becomes like a microcosm of human behaviour. All the while, the film keeps a firm gimlet eye on Cotillard's character as she juggles through the most tumultuous of emotions, battling her darkness within, pleading for reconsideration, and understanding quite well when she doesn't get it -- and hating herself for begging, and knowing that if she doesn't fight, all is lost. What was disconcerting about the film was how the Dardennes -- and Cotillard -- telegraphed all these so easily and meaningfully that Sandra's dilemma becomes our dilemma: we could easily see ourselves in her shoes -- and the worst part is, we could easily see ourselves in her co-workers' shoes, too. What makes us human? What is pity? What is need, and what is selfishness? Will we give up something we desperately need in order to consider the plight of another human being? The film does not offer any easy choices. But I like how it ended. I like the hard-earned epiphany Sandra gets in the end, and in a sense, no matter how dour the story is, it is still a moving experience.

Best Foreign Language Oscar Chances: Very good.


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