Notes from the Screener Pile: 2014.6 (Best Foreign Language Film Edition!)

Award season binge-watching takes a detour into the Best Foreign Language Film category with stops in Belgium, Brazil, and Portugal.

Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit)
(Belgium/France/Italy, 95 min.)
Written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione
Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night.
Courtesy of Wildbunch/ Mongrel Media.

 A major movie star in a Dardennes film, whatever will we see next? Marion Cotillard brings unusually high star wattage to the working class oeuvre of Belgium’s Dardenne brothers, but her stunning performance works wonders with the directors’ signature sparseness. Cotillard’s laudable performance—she’s having a momentous year with this film and The Immigrant—makes Two Days, One Night the Dardennes most accessible film to date. The Dardennes know how to frame raw human emotion and Cotillard more than amply serves them emotion in turn with her devastating performance as Sandra, a working mother fighting for her job after her colleagues vote to keep their annual bonuses rather than retain her on staff. Cotillard carries virtually every frame of Two Days, One Night with subtly shattering emotions as Sandra puts her career, family, dignity, and, ultimately, her life on the line as she visits her peers one by one and begs them to reconsider the vote.

By zeroing in on Sandra’s plight and making the audience an intimate witness to her increasing fragility as votes fall on either side of her favour, the Dardennes create one of the most effective and involving essays on the economic crisis put to film. Two Days, One Night, Belgium’s Oscar submission this year, makes the individual’s plight a universal fable as those at the top of the ladder use their employees as pawns and pit workers against one another in power plays of have and have not. The film undergoes true waves of emotions as Sandra sees some of her friends sell her out for a paltry thousand Euros, but the film is an especially moving moral fable about the unshakable threads of human decency that endure in this increasingly depersonalized and materialist world. Two Days, One Night offers the closest thing to a happy ending that the Dardennes could conceive: it’s tumultuously effective and a poignant reminder that some people, deep down, can still do the right thing.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Two Days, One Night is now in limited USA release from IFC Films.
It opens in Canada from Mongrel Media in the coming months. (Probably Jan/Feb. 2015 for Ottawa.)

The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho)
(Brazil, 95 min.)
Written and directed by Daniel Ribeiro
Starring: Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi, Tess Amorim
Brazil offers one of the most likable and upbeat entries in this year’s Best Foreign Language Film race with The Way He Looks, and this queer coming of age film is certainly a charmer. This crowd-pleasing tale of budding love features a cute trio of performers in a quasi-love triangle as friends harbour crushes on friends and learn to see one another anew. Writer/director Daniel Ribeiro effectively uses the metaphor of sight and self-discovery as blind teen Leo (Ghilherme Lobo) gets a feel for his own budding sexuality as he grows intimately closer with Gabriel (Fabio Audi), the new boy in school who quickly becomes the third Stooge in Leo’s strong friendship with his long-time bud Giovana (Tess Amorim). Giovana, however, clearly has an eye for Leo. Everything works out cleanly, though, with a few innuendos and surprise kisses. The Way He Looks is interminably safe, but it’s bound to leave a smile on one’s face as friends wade through these new experiences.

The Way He Looks takes an innocent approach to self-discovery and sexual awakening as Leo and Gabriel taste their budding feelings with careful does-he-or-doesn’t-he approaches, getting a feel for one another with movies and twee shared-song-moments, and discover themselves in turn. Lobo is a bit bland in the lead, while Audi enjoys a very striking screen presence, but they’re an adorable pair together— pure, spirited, youthful, and charming. The Way He Looks might be harmless to the point of being lame, yet it’s also a sweetly uncontrived tale of young love.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

What Now? Remind Me (E Agora? Lembra-me)
(Portugal, 164 min.)
Written and directed by Joaquim Pinto
Joaquim Pinto invites audiences to immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of his existence as he retreats to the country and undergoes experimental treatment for HIV. Alone with nothing but his thoughts, dogs, lover, and camera, Pinto ruminates on his life as he confronts the likelihood that this film might be his last. This contemplative odyssey through art and life is a beautifully reflective take on cinema’s ability to express one’s innermost fears and pains as Pinto wonders at a world that allows diseases like AIDS to persist and claim the lives of so many people he’s known throughout his journey as a human and artist.

What Now? Remind Me uses repetition and collage as Pinto looks back on his career as a filmmaker and flips through the archives of his life, savouring the memories and regretting little. The time ahead in What Now? Remind Me celebrates life as the ailing filmmaker makes the most of his time and embraces life with both love and anger, looking at the world as a man increasingly out of touch with contemporary life, but in tune with the past. The associative style is a bit rambling, yet offers fleeting glimpses that convey the sense of a life passing by. What Now? is a stirring meditation on time from a man who knows that his time is up.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)


Advantage: Canada.

How’s your Best Foreign Language Film checklist going?

(I really, really need to find Ida!)