Veterans of the Cannes film festival and winners of several Palme d’Ors (for L’enfant and Rosetta), brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have returned this year with Two Days, One Night. Their latest story follows Marion Cotillard as Sandra and her desperate fight to not to lose herself and find a way to keep her job with grace. We loved the drama, saying in our review, “the most exciting filmmakers in world cinema have crafted a staggeringly transcendent Parable of the Poor — a view into the dichotomy of work and grace, along with the emergence of self-worth.”
Ahead of the premiere, the brothers, along with producer Denny Freyd and stars Marion Cotillard and Fabrizio Rongione all gathered for a press conference in Cannes to discuss their latest project. The topics included how solidarity changes people, casting choices and working with a female character in the films. Check out the highlights below, as well as the complete press conference. Note that this comes from an English translation, as the conference was held in French.
On Solidarity During Economic Crisis
During one of the biggest economic crises in history the last decade, the directors were asked if it has affected their work. Luc Dardenne explains, “We never experienced this kind of situation in our work as film makers. If we have we experienced such a situation, we’d never have suggested the agreement proposed in the film. It’s a kind of blackmail and that’s not what we want to do.” In the film, her co-workers are asked to band together to let her keep her job, and he continues to say, “The economic crisis doesn’t foster the solidarity. I think solidarity has always been something that has to be build.”
Discussing how difficult it was to show solidarity, he continues, “I think that there’s still people, as you can see in the film, who choose solidarity, because that’s the storyline. You see how this woman, Sandra — she’s not a militant, she doesn’t belong to any political party, but what she says to herself is, ‘I’m going to seek the people,’ with help of her husband. And people change their mind because they actually see Sandra and they’re touched, they’re moved by her state. The fact that she’s very upset and they decide to vote for her. So I think one can still show the solidarity today. This is what we depict in the film.”
Talking about allegory, Jean-Pierre Dardenne adds, “We’ve tried in this ending to show how solidarity — the solidarity Sandra encountered of these two days and night — and how the solidarity showed by her husband changed her and that’s the end. She was able to say what we really thought hard [about] and is very happy. One might think this is an allegory, but for us she has changed thanks to this solidarity. We showed how solidarity can actually change people and the fact that people say no and that she really fought.”
On the Brotherly Working Machine
Discussing the difficulties on finding the ending of the film, Jean-Pierre Dardenne explains why it took almost ten years work on the screenplay. “The end of the film, well, we took some time to find it because we made several different proposals, but none of them really satisfied us,” he says. “That’s how we work together, we are sort of like a little machine. And depending on the proposals made the machine gets going or not. When the machine doesn’t get going it means the proposal isn’t right.” He adds, “We want Sandra to put herself in a position and the people she went to see. And the only answer she could give, and which would led meaning to the film, is the answer that she actually says at the end. If we don’t want to tell the same story, it’s better then that we don’t work together as brothers.”
Marion Cotillard On Her Choice of Complex Roles
Looking at Marion Cotillard’s filmography, it’s clear to she has the pick of the litter for her explicit choosing. “I love complex parts,” she says. “I view these women as people who are truly fighting for survival and they discover thing within themselves that they didn’t realize they had. And that’s what truly interests me in the human condition.” She adds, “I’m deeply moved by people who manage, who cope, despite circumstances, despite certain situations, despite their handicap, for example. I learned a lot about human beings, human conditions when I explored these people souls.”
When it comes to inhabiting a character, the actress says, “I just set aside myself and become that other person. Of course, it involves the whole process… I try to work even if this work is a bit vague. I try to work as much as possible in terms of going as deep as I can into the character. To be able then to totally set aside that work aspect, to actually become that person. I give up my own identity and actually become that person. Once I’m on the set, if I found all these keys, I don’t really have much to do. All I need to do is to hand the car keys to that character and the character drives me, rather than the opposite.”
When asked about any potential awards wins, Cotillard modestly says she’s thankful for this opportunity, “however when things happen like awards and prizes, I greatly appreciate it. It’s something that gives me great joy and in a career like mine — well, with the Oscar for example — that can lead on to many wonderful projects. I’m very fortunate because I never hoped to get a given prize or an award.”
On Working With Female Characters
It’s sadly difficult to argue that female characters are usually portrayed not as strongly as their counterpart in most films. However, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, upon being asked about the importance of female characters in the film, says, “I think that many directors, and certainly we as directors, like to work with woman.” While remembering a story when an undisclosed man told them that it’s difficult to work with experienced actresses, they couldn’t understand why.
Jean-Pierre Dardenne adds, “As to Sandra’s tale, we thought this could never perhaps have happened to a man. Woman in real life are more fragile when it comes to employment. They find it more difficult to find another job. There are many more woman who are unemployed than there are men. But that’s not, of course, sufficient. That’s not a sufficient motivation for working with an actress. I think Luc and I wanted to work with an actress and we thought it would be just wonderful to work with Marion, who is a very great actress and is a real star. And we met and it was love at first sight and there we go. Then, of course, you have to do a lot of work and perhaps we should stop talking about it.”
On Essential Rehearsals
The Dardennes are specific about practicing before shooting and star Rongione points out that, “With the Dardenne brothers, the idea of rehearsing is absolutely fundamental. All these scenes are rehearsed, or nearly all of them. Before the shooting we rehearsed for three weeks and then we rehearsed the day we shoot as well. There’re several different takes and we tried to achieve a given result. The idea is to achieve something absolutely perfect. The movement of the camera must fit in perfectly with a movement of the characters. So we tried to strike a perfect balance, in other words, between all these movements. I believe that rehearsing is there for essential, it’s a key word in fact in their way of making films.”
Cotillard adds, “We rehearse a lot. We get to know each other very well. And you have to find this right movement, this right movement of the bodies and the cameras. It’s like a dance, it’s like a rhythm, it’s like a given pace. That’s very important. In that matter, we save a lot of time with the actual shooting. We can focus on the acting exclusively, and for an actor or an actress that’s stupendous.”
On Their First Collaboration
While it is not the first time the Dardennes worked with Rongione, it is their first collaboration with Cotillard. “I always dreamt of working with these directors, who would lead me in to the deepest details, the finest details of the character and the film,” says Cotillard. “I’ve always sensed in their films that there would be a huge amount of work involved in order to attain the perfection they achieve in their films. What moves me as a spectator when I watch their films — and I’ve seen all their films and I’ve loved them all — I felt bowled over.”
“Of course, we really wanted to do a film with Marion,” Luc Dardenne answers, after being asked if they wanted to work with the actress. They first met her after being producers on Rust & Bone and he adds, “We met Marion, my brother and I looked at each other, and we said instantly, ‘We’d like to work with you.’ She said, ‘Thank you. I would like to work with you too.’ So we just sort of came together at that moment.” He adds, “Something happened and my brother and I went home and said, ‘Well let’s continue writing the screenplay thinking about Marion.’ And then we changed screenplay and we started on the tale of Sandra. When we started with the story of Sandra, we took up an old screenplay in fact. We immediately thought about Marion and we wanted to be absolutely sure that she’d be interested. Because we weren’t talking about a young doctor anymore, but a young working woman. And she said to us, ‘Yes, I like the story, I like the character and I want to work with you.'”
The co-director goes on to say, “When you work with an actress like Marion, we know she’s a great, great actress. She’s a star and she is a sort of an icon. We’re not here to say, ‘Oh, we are going to break the icon or what have you. That’s not our point — some people like to speak in those terms. We knew that Marion wanted to become Sandra. We knew that she’d be able to do all this work, understanding the innermost nature of the character. We achieved this through rehearsing. We managed to enable actors to enter our world and give everything they had.”
Two Days, One Night premiered at Cannes Film Festival and will be released by Sundance Selects.