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Posted: 9:48 a.m. Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cannes Day 7: The Dardennes and Gosling 



By Charles Ealy

American-Statesman staff

The Belgium directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have already won two Palme d'Ors, and they might set a record and win a third with their latest, "Two Days, One Night," starring Marion Cotillard.

Cotillard is best-actress worthy for her portrayal of Sandra. She works at a solar industry plant, and she has missed a few weeks because of a severe bout of depression. The bosses have decided that they can make do with one less worker in her absence, and they tell the employees on a Friday that they have two choices: They can get bonuses, but they'll  have to vote to lay off Sandra. If they keep Sandra, no bonus. At first, the workers side with the bonuses, and only two friends stand up for Sandra. One of those friends gets the plant boss to reconsider, and another vote is scheduled for a Monday. Sandra thus has the weekend to contact her co-workers and get them to change their minds.

It doesn't sound like much of a plot. But the execution of the movie is practically flawless. Cotillard imbues Sandra with an empathetic desperation. If she loses her job, she and her husband and two kids won't be able to afford the mortgage. When she begins to approach her colleagues, she's embarrassed. She says she understands that people want a bonus. But she also explains that she needs the job. It's a choice that the workers don't want to have to make, and all the different reactions are completely understandable. The villains here are not the co-workers, but the bosses. And there's a strong solidarity undertone to the entire affair.

All of this leads up to various moral choices on the part of everyone, including Sandra. And it's interesting to watch her grow in self-esteem as she does her best to keep her job. I doubt that anyone other than Cotillard could have pulled off such a role with aplomb. If the movie doesn't win the Palme, then it should at least bring Cotillard the best actress award in Cannes.

Later on Tuesday, actor Ryan Gosling made his directorial debut in the Un Certain Regard sidebar with "Lost River." The movie has a David Lynch vibe, with multiple moody shots, powerful music and dramatic acts of violence. It takes place in the fictional town of Lost River, and if it were a bigger city, you'd swear it was Detroit. 

Christina Hendricks, the "Mad Men" star, plays a single mother of two who is living in her grandmother's old home, and she wants to hang on to it, because she thinks it's a good place to raise children. But all signs point to the contrary. Houses are being demolished, and only one other family appears to be living nearby. Meanwhile, a gangster who calls himself Bully rides around in a convertible and announces to everyone that he's the master of this domain. 

Hendricks, who goes by the name of Billy, has a toddler and an older son who appears destined to clash with Bully. The son's name is Bones, and he's played by Iain De Caestecker, who has a distinctive James Dean vibe. If any teen had reason to be alienated, Bones is the one. He spends most of his time trying to fix up what looks like a Pinto, and he pines for the only other teenager in the neighborhood, Rat, played by Saoirse Ronan.

The movie takes a very strange detour, however, when the mother begins to work in a bizarre theater where the actors pretend they're being murdered. Lots of fake blood spews to the crowd's delight, and Eva Mendes rules the roost as the character named Cat. It's probably a spoiler to go much further, but if one particular dance scene doesn't make you think of "Blue Velvet" or "Twin Peaks," then you haven't been paying attention.

The reaction to the Tuesday screening was mixed. Some cheered. Some booed. But Gosling has a distinctive, dark style. And for a first film, it's a good -- but weird -- effort.

About Charles Ealy

Charles Ealy writes and edits stories about movies, books and the arts for the Austin American-Statesman.

Send Charles Ealy an email.

 
 

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