This week has not been good to me in terms of the films I’ve been watching. Sometimes I go through days or nights where I start a film to discover its not worth watching. I know, I know I should give it time and see it through, possibly talk about it on here, but I can’t find myself wasting my time on a poor film when I could be watching a half-decent one. I won’t mention those that I have turned off less than 30 mins (60 mins and I have to watch, having committed so much time) in and it off and gone, time to see what else there’s to offer. My last full film was the disappointing Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) another John Frankenheimer/Burt Lancaster collaboration.
However I can’t even compare that to the film I found myself glue to tonight. I’ve watched a good few foreign films this past month, mostly German and a few more ready to go. I generally find them more engaging than some of the English language fare of late, I guess it’s because they are more willing to take risks with the plots, characters and visually too. There are just stronger and once you’re in your compelled to watch and read the subtitles, without them you’d be literally lost to what can be a powerful story. Like Two Days, One Night/Deux jours, une nuit (2014) which I was hoping would be half decent compared to those I had abandoned already, I wasn’t prepared to do that again. At first I thought this was a liberally film about unions, discussion of a ballot at work going on, whilst Sandra (Marion Cotillard) is taking her next antidepressant for the day. It was not until I realised this ballot was integral to her families future that I was drawn into this emotionally taught film.
I wouldn’t be the first to draw comparisons between Two Days, One Night and it’s grandfather Bicycle Thieves/Ladri di biciclette (1948) which follows a father (Lamberto Maggiorani) and son (Enzo Staiola) in search of a stolen bicycle that means the difference between an income or life on the bread line. Surrounded by bikes and the temptation, he follows lead after lead, whilst trying to set an example to his son, to do the right thing when life gets tough. The son can not truly comprehend what could possible lay ahead for him, whilst his father’s filled with dread fear and guilt in a country struggling to get back on its feet once more.
We have move along way forward since war-torn Italy, it’s now contemporary France and a small solar panel manufacturer has made a decision to lay off Sandra who was off sick with depression. She’s ready to make her return when the threat of her job is very much on the line. A ballot has been taken by her colleagues who have agreed to take a €1,000 bonus over her return to work. It seems unfair that they would do this to her, however they each have their reasons for doing so. At this stage we have only met herself, her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) and her next closest ally Julliette (Catherine Salée). We have yet to hit the roads and begin the film and all the emotion that comes with it.
Here we don’t have the father son relationship throughout the film, instead its the husband and wife. It’s a more conscious decision on his part to support her, usually it would be the other way around, the woman supporting the main male bread-winner. This is thankfully the 21st century where either or both partners can support the family with the added depth of mental illness and the global recession still having a knock-on effect on the economy.
If you take the film on its script, there is a lot of repetition going on, Sandra basically having the same conversation, change the names around, the simplicity of the repetition allows us to see that her job over the weekend after the first and before the second ballot lays ahead. Taking her fight to her colleagues, hoping to win their vote before they cast it. Listening to all those who will listen, some more sympathetic, a bonus or position is lost. Each of them have their own unique situations, low-income, supporting a family, a new house, paying a years worth of bills, all legitimate reasons to vote no. Whilst others who she meets are willing to give up a potential bonus, an act of kindness and sacrifice. The conversations bring out the honesty in people, we see them outside the safety of the work-place they are different people in a domestic context.
Sandra is constantly in a vulnerable state throughout, relying on her antidepressants more than she wants to admit. Is she really able to return to work, she has the fight to do so. Never giving up like the father in Bicycle Thieves shows that however the human spirit is, someone will be there for you. The despair that both characters go through is very human and relatable, away from the glamour of the Hollywood dream that would see them return to work with ease. The ending here reminds how tough the modern workplace is, even with a greater understanding of mental illness there’s always barriers placed before us.
There was a time, a long time when I thought I would never see Bicycle Thieves/Ladri di biciclette (1948) for a number of reasons. My almost complete rejection of foreign films which now looks very silly with all I have now seen, Of course not so readily available to me, I am far more open-minded to foreign films ever since my love for Studio Ghibli and which opened the floodgates leading to Breathless (1960) last year opening my eyes to the reality that foreign films are just as good if not better than those of your own language. During time I had known about Bicycle Thieves on every list imaginable about the best films ever made, I never really took any notice, the more I heard about I switched off. Today I look out for these films wanting watch them, I’m indeed waking up and enjoying the smell of foreign/Italian roses.
Putting aside my warming relationship to foreign films I need to turn to this film which I really wished I seen years earlier. I’ve made up for that tonight, seeing a film that when viewed today still has powerful resonance. We’ve all had a time in our when we have nothing going our way, it just gets worse and worse until you hit rock bottom, you see no way out. For Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani) he’s survive WWII to now pick up the fragments of domestic life, having been given a job he now has to fight on the streets to keep hold of it. We don’t know his real trade, possibly a decorator when he’s given a job pasting posters, namely of Rita Hayworth. He rightly jumps at the job even under the condition of having his own transport – his bicycle, which we learn he pawned so he could support his family. We see a man whose a devoted family man torn to ultimately do the right think. Don’t we all strive to do that throughout our lives?
If you boil this film to its essence there’s not really much to it, a mans offered a job which requires his own transport that is later stolen before going to spend the rest of the film trying to find it. However all who have seen the film will know that such a basic premise for a plot can produce one of the most human of stories. I’m going to be provocative and say that if you watch this film and are not moved by anything that happens then you are not human. I mean to say that if you don’t feel for Antonio and his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) as they walk and run around the streets of Rome in hopes of finding his bike. A bike that will see them have a better lifestyle, a decent steady income that will ensure his family won’t go without. Don’t we all aspire to have be able to live a decent live in some comfort, without fear that it’ll be threatened after a single event in our lives.
For me I knew that the bike would be stolen, holding on tentatively to the bike whenever it was on-screen. Once it’s brought back from the pawn shop, not just the average small shop on the high street, a mass of personal belongings held by the state to support the public live and survive. Having the infrastructure behind the wooden counter there is an ever-changing archive of human history that depends on money. A cycle that could go on forever whilst the nation is getting back on its feet after being battered during WWII, their leader had misled them into a war that only brought death and misery, now the ordinary man, woman and children are picking up the pieces that Mussolini left behind.
The drama begins on the first day of his new job, filled with hope after being shown the ropes, pasting up an image of Hayworth, an image of great beauty, that’s to be desired from a foreign land they have only seen at the cinema, images they are only just being delighted with. His job is taking him a step closer to the dreams that Hollywood indulges him in. When that dream is suddenly pulled from under him by a thief Vittorio Antonucci taking his bike and riding off into not the sunset which is might as well be, never to be seen again. Instead it’s a bustling town filled with bikes and traffic, never to be seen again.
Father and son waste no time in searching for the bike the following day with the help of Baiocco (Gino Saltamerenda) as they are taken to a market where the possibility of finding the bike even in pieces could bring the search to an end. It’s torture seeing them both look at the bells, the lines and lines of bikes they quickly look up and down, hoping the next one will be theirs. My god I hoped they’d find it here, sadly it’s not to be, having the carry on in the desperate search for a needle in a metal haystack.
Antonio and Bruno slowly loose hope through the day they dedicate to the search, or at least the time we have with them. Sinking from despair for the lost job to a world they would never think they’d even tread. From hassling an elderly man who only wants a meal, to possibly accusing a young man of being the thief until he becomes one himself. A transformation from a role model father trying to do his best to crossing into a potential life of crime in order to carry on the life he thought to be gone forever. It’s dramatic yet a very real possibility that we could all go through. With a click of the fingers we could lose that all important independence that allows us to be free and live out our dreams, or merely provide.
I didn’t think this review would be touching the 1000 word mark, only a few solid paragraphs, but this is a film really gets inside of you. You could be that parent who needs to feed their child who could steal that loaf of bread to ensure they get the basics. I’m so glad to have seen this film and will be looking out for more Italian Realism.