Two Days, One Night: intro by Dr Jamie Steele, Mon 1st Dec 6.00pm

Our next Screen Talks event will be on Monday 1st December, 6.00pm at Exeter Picturehouse. Dr Jamie Steele, Lecturer in  European Cinema, Dept of English and Film Studies at the University of Exeter) will introduce Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, 2014).

Join the event on Facebook and find out more here.

Booking Information: Book online, call the Box Office 0871 902 5730 or buy tickets on the door (half price for students on Mondays).

Jamie has written a guest-blog post for us on the film:


In 2005, the Dardenne brothers became part of a select group of only seven filmmakers to have won the Cannes film festival’s Palme d’Or on more than one occasion. They have received the prestigious award on two occasions – the first for Rosetta in 1999 and the second for L’enfant/ The Child. The Dardenne brothers were the first – and to date the only – Belgian filmmakers to win the top prize at Cannes. However, their first Palm d’Or success was seen as controversial. The 1999 Cannes film festival was described as the worst festival ever after two films that were produced on low budgets with non-professional actors – Rosetta by the Dardenne brothers and L’humanité/ Humanity (Dumont, 1999) – dominated the awards. The Dardenne brothers have since become the most internationally recognized Belgian filmmakers – Chantal Akerman and Jaco von Dormael aside. In 2007 – to mark the 60th anniversary of the Cannes film festival – the Dardenne brothers were invited to contribute to the omnibus film Chacun son Cinéma/ To Each his own cinema (2007). The Cannes film festival has certainly provided a platform for the francophone Belgian filmmakers to develop an international reputation amongst cinephile audiences.


The Dardenne brothers have formed a substantial part of my research interests – and their films were very much an entry point for me in terms of discovering films produced in the francophone Belgian region of Wallonia. I vividly remember my first viewing of Rosetta in 2001 – a film that showed a young woman who desperately fights for employment as she treks between a caravan park and the grey and bleak streets of Seraing’s town centre. After the film’s release, the Belgian parliament voted in a law – widely known as the ‘Rosetta Plan’ – that was designed to combat social exclusion and to improve youth employment rights in the most deprived and depressed Belgian towns.


Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne were born in small towns (Engis and Awirs) in the Liege province, and grew up in the town of Seraing. The brothers also went and studied at higher education level in Louvain – Jean-Pierre studied art dramatique at IAD (Institut des arts dramatiques) and Luc completed a degree in Philosophy at UCL (Université catholique de Louvain). Whilst on a placement working for the French playwright Armand Gatti from the IAD, Jean-Pierre began to work and experiment with video. With his brother Luc, the Dardennes founded their own production company, Derives, to produce their six video documentaries, one short film, and two feature films between 1978 and 1992.

The town of Seraing has been ever present in their films from the video documentaries of the 1970s through to Deux jours, une nuit (2014) – with the exception of Le silence de Lorna (set in the neighbouring city, Liège). Seraing is a small industrial town, situated within the province of Liège, which was formerly dominated by factories, mines, and the industrial traffic that travelled along the river (La Meuse). The early video documentaries broadly dealt with the workers’ memories of collective struggles and protests against the closing down of the factories in Seraing – in particular the closure of the Cockerill plant – and the subsequent loss of employment in the area. Social issues have been subsequently foregrounded in the Dardenne brothers’ second phase of filmmaking (post-1996) – particularly themes of marginalization, social exclusion, social fracture, sentiments of abandonment, and a loss of a ‘regional’ working class identity.

Articles and reviews produced by The Guardian, Cahiers du Cinéma, and Positif on Deux Jours, Une Nuit all draw comparisons with the aforementioned Rosetta. There are particular similarities – certainly the theme of (un-)employment and the focus on a central female protagonist who is fighting for her job. However, Luc Dardenne notes a key difference between the two characters through his analysis of Rosetta, by stating that she is ‘a good little soldier of capitalism’ (L. Dardenne, in Stevens, 2014). Rosetta is implicated in a struggle for employment and a sense of belonging in – what the Dardenne brothers call in their journal – ‘the fortress of society’. She understands the notion of high levels of competition between young people in the region for jobs in a neoliberal economy. The society has become increasingly atomized and fragmented – once Rosetta loses her job, she is immediately replaced. The individual is isolated and s/he is fighting against her/ his peers for limited opportunities. As the Dardenne brothers note in their journal, Rosetta is ‘un soldat en guerre’ [a soldier in action]. She is clearly willing to fight and compete, whereas Marion Cotillard’s character of Sandra – in Deux Jours, Une Nuit – has a more sombre and uncertain attitude towards competition. For Sandra, her mission is to foster a sense of understanding and support from her colleagues. She is attempting to re-create a sense of collective and solidarity amongst the workers – in support of her and one another.

two days one night

It is also important to acknowledge that these two films are produced fifteen years apart, and the socio-political context has changed. In the late 1990s, Rosetta is discussed – in academic scholarship – as part of so-called French New Realism. The comparison of their films at this time to French New Realism is particularly apposite, given that there are similarities in the social-political issues that are explored on screen and the film style that the Dardenne brothers use. In an interview in Sight and Sound (Stevens, 2014), the two filmmakers cite influences from real events that took place in France in the 1990s in which workers were asked to vote to keep their bonuses. That said, the filmmakers widely note that the idea resurfaced after 2008 and the economic crisis in the USA and Europe. In essence, we are witnessing a film that is dealing with a social crisis in a contemporary context of economic crisis with high levels of unemployment in a micro-geographical area – that of Seraing.

In his journal, Luc Dardenne sets out the filmmakers’ own style after the critical failure of their second feature film Je pense à vous/ You’re always on my mind (1992). This proves to be a significant turning point in the filmmakers’ career. The film style begins with La promesse/ The Promise (1996) and persists through to this year’s film, Deux Jours, Une Nuit (2014). In this period, the filmmakers have released a film every three years – Rosetta (1999), Le fils/ The Son (2002), L’enfant/ The Child (2005), Le silence de Lorna/ Lorna’s Silence (2008), Le gamin au vélo/ The Kid with a Bike (2011). The Dardenne brothers’ film style includes the use of handheld camera, filming ‘close-up’, the camera following the movements of the body, the use of non-professional or unknown actors, no use of non-diegetic music, and the films are produced on a low budget.

We can tease out some of the continuities in their film style in Deux Jours, Une Nuit – particularly in terms of the camerawork and editing. For example, the Dardenne brothers’ handheld camera focuses on the corporeal movements of the central protagonists, tracing their paths through Seraing. Deux Jours, Une Nuit is characterized by the use of long takes and repetitions of movement and dialogue. We can begin to think about the film as constructed – in part – of a series of long takes that follow Sandra in real time as she asks her colleagues for a sense of understanding and solidarity. The long takes encourage the spectator to observe the interaction between Sandra and her colleagues in each exchange. Each long take draws attention to the subtle nuances of the body’s movement in the space. At the same time, the camera is not static, but instead moves in a corporeal manner and is in perpetual motion. The mechanism moves behind the body on screen – at times – as if there are strings attached between the camera and the central protagonist.


There are, however, deviations from this style – particularly in Le gamin au vélo – in which the Dardenne brothers use non-diegetic music and cast the well-known Namurois actress Cécile de France. We once again see a deviation from this imposed restriction on their films with the decision to cast the even better known and internationally recognised French star Marion Cotillard as Sandra. The Dardenne brothers met the French star when they were producers on the French film De rouille et d’os/ Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard, 2012) in which Cotillard plays Stéphanie – a killer whale trainer who loses her legs after a horrible accident. The filmmakers considered many roles for the French star – including casting her as a doctor working in Seraing’s suburbs – before writing the role of Sandra, a young worker in a solar panel factory who was on leave from her job due to depression.

Each film’s budget has also increased alongside the Dardenne brothers’ reputation over the past two decades. Luc Dardenne’s ‘low budget’ idea is certainly the case for their first feature film post-1996, as La promesse cost only 1.6 million Euros (the equivalent in Belgian francs at the time). Deux Jours, Une Nuit has the largest budget for the Dardenne brothers to date at 6.9 million Euros. The filmmakers once made the ludic remark that a filmmaker could not produce a film in Belgium without pooling finance together in the form of co-productions. These filmmakers have created all of their films post-1996 through agreements with France – and Deux Jours, Une Nuit is no exception. The breakdown of co-production finance is balanced between Belgium (46%) and France (44%) in this film to such an extent that the categorization of the film’s ‘nationality’ has been reported differently across several publications. In particular, Cahiers du Cinéma classify the film as ‘France, 2014’ and Positif as ‘Belgium, 2014’. That said, academic scholarship on the Dardenne brothers has previously considered the work of the Dardenne brothers in the context of French cinema – particularly if we think about the filmmakers’ inclusion in O’Shaughnessy’s (2007) The New face of Political Cinema: Commitment in French Film since 1995 and Austin’s (2008) Contemporary French Cinema.

Deux Jours, Une Nuit wonderfully captures the plight of a young woman, worker, and mother who is caught in a precarious situation. With the limited time frame of only one weekend, she is encouraged to “resist” – the verb Luc Dardenne uses to open his journal – by persuading her colleagues to give up their hard-earned bonus.

Deux Jours, Une Nuit was released in cinemas in May 2014 in Belgium and France and in August 2014 in the UK.

Works Cited:

Austin, G. (2008) Contemporary French Cinema: an introduction, 2nd edition, Manchester: Manchester University Press

Dardenne, L. (2008) Au dos de nos images, Paris: Editions du Seuil

Delorme, S. (2014) ‘La pitié dangereuse’, Cahiers du Cinéma, June. pp. 44-45

O’Shaughnessy, M. (2007) The New Face of Political Cinema: Commitment in French Film since 1995, New York: Berghahn Books

Nuttens, J-D (2014) ‘L’affaire humaine’, Positif (639), May. pp. 8-15

Stevens, I. (2014) ‘Woman on the verge’, Sight and Sound, September. pp. 65-67

Dr Jamie Steele lectures in Film Studies at the University of Exeter.  His current research interests include the regional and the transnational in Belgian Cinema.

In the Fog: intro by Dr Muireann Maguire Mon 17th Nov, 6.00pm

Our next Screen Talks event will be on Monday 17th November, 6.00pm at Exeter Picturehouse. Dr Muireann Maguire, Lecturer in  Russian, Dept of Modern Languages at the University of Exeter) will introduce In the Fog (Sergey Loznitsa, 2012).

Join the event on Facebook and find out more here.

Booking Information: Book online, call the Box Office 0871 902 5730 or buy tickets on the door (half price for students on Mondays).

Muireann has written a guest-blog post for us on the film:


‘On a cold, slushy day in the autumn of the second year of the war, the Partisan scout Burov was riding to Mostishche station so as to shoot a traitor – a peasant from those parts with the surname Sushchenya’. Thus begins the Belorussian writer Vasil Bykov’s novella In The Fog (1989), adapted in 2012 as a film of the same name by the director Sergei Loznitsa. Loznitsa’s version follows Bykov’s story with scrupulous accuracy almost to the very end. The setting is Belorussia (modern Belarus) in 1942; the Wehrmacht have pushed as far as the Volga in the East and Leningrad in the North; all of Western Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic states are under German occupation. The Germans have effortlessly assimilated existing Soviet administration and infrastructure, installing German garrisons in major towns and enforcing martial law. With the Red Army fighting a desperate rearguard action far to the east, the only local resistance is coordinated by small bands of partisans surviving in the forest. If a man betrays his comrades to the Germans, the partisans ensure that he is shot. Simple logic, apparently. And yet, in Loznitsa’s elegant and surprisingly sensuous adaptation, this story becomes anything but simple.


Sergei Loznitsa belongs to a generation of directors born in the former Soviet Union (including Fyodor Bondarchuk, Aleksei Popogrebsky and Andrei Zvyaginstsev) whose work engages directly with the increasingly nationally relevant – and politically fraught – field of Soviet history. As cultural memory has moved to the forefront of ideological debate, it suffers increasing state manipulation.  Putin’s government has tightened controls over the teaching of history in schools (by commissioning a new national textbook that will omit, among other things, the facts about Stalin’s collusion with Hitler in 1939, and about liberal opposition to Putin’s regime since 2000) and on how records of Soviet-era repression are kept (a disregard for historians demonstrated by the 2013 police raid on the Moscow office of the human rights charity Memorial). In this context of centralized obfuscation and explicit state dishonesty, directors like Loznitsa and Popogrebsky have developed a new aesthetic that aims, as the film scholar Vladimir Padunov suggests, to expose untruth by showing rather than by telling. Both directors choose individual or local situations that metonymically represent larger themes of transformation or suffering; the narratives typically rely on close-ups, extended takes, and out-of-sequence flashbacks rather than dialogue or action; and they favour forms such as the road movie (Loznitsa’s My Joy (2010); Zvyagintsev’s The Return (2003)), the coming-of-age drama (Popogrebsky’s How I Ended This Summer (2010)), and especially for Loznitsa, the documentary. Almost all his films are documentaries, and even those which venture outside this genre – such as In The Fog and My Joy – display documentary skills, particularly their combination of fine visual detail with historical accuracy. In an interview for Russian Cinema [in Russian], Loznitsa stated that his main aim as a director is to ‘show the absurdity of what is happening’ in the world, on-screen.

Loznitsa’s path to directing was unconventional. Born in Belarus in 1964, he later moved to Kiev, where he studied engineering and mathematics; he then researched artificial intelligence at Russia’s Institute of Cybernetics while working part-time as a Japanese-Russian translator. In 1991 he enrolled at the VGIK, the Russian State Institute of Cinematography, to train as a director. While Loznitsa’s very first film, the 1996 documentary Today We Are Going To Build A House, won prizes abroad, it was the 2005 Blockade that secured his international reputation.  Blockade, which describes the 900-day siege of Leningrad during the Second World War, was Loznitsa’s first venture into the subgenre that Padunov calls the ‘compilation film’. Blockade consists of newsreel footage, sometimes including original voiceovers, re-edited and combined into a sequence which conveys both the stringency of life during the siege, and the often ludicrous and futile character of contemporary propaganda. Loznitsa has continued to elaborate his own versions of both compilation and more conventional documentary films: his latest, Maidan (2014), uses footage from a fixed camera overlooking Kiev’s Independence Square to depict crowd action and public speeches during Ukraine’s anti-government protests in late 2013 and early 2014. Loznitsa emphasizes the importance of studying the past: ‘History which has not been understood, or fully comprehended, or reflected upon, continues to live with us and within us, presenting itself over and over […]’, he concluded that same Russian Cinema interview. As Jeremy Hicks argues persuasively in his review of Loznitsa’s 2008 documentary Revue, the director also intends to provoke speculation about the constructed nature of any documentary by ‘lay[ing] bare the process of representation’ and performance. In The Fog incorporates and arguably transcends this speculation.

The film opens with the execution of three local railway workers by German troops in a scene that compellingly subverts audience expectations of revelation: we never see the victims directly. Instead, we watch the expressions on the faces of locals as the camera pans impassively over a crowd scene; we hear the indictment read aloud as soldiers sit idly by; and as the camera settles on a heap of human remains, we hear the gallows doing their work. This grim scene presages the wealth of unexpectedly sensuous detail – the colour of individual leaves, the detail on an embroidered nightdress, the texture of snow or fog – which fills in the film’s otherwise claustrophobic focus on its three main characters’ wanderings. (This deliberately circumscribed diegesis helps to distance Loznitsa’s film from the other major Russian feature film set in Belorussia during the war, Elem Klimov’s 1985 Come and See, with its greater narrative complexity and more numerous cast). As a consequence of these executions, two partisans – Burov and his shifty sidekick, Voitik – track down Sushchenya, a railway worker who was mysteriously spared by the Germans when his comrades were killed. Both partisans and, indeed, all the villagers, with the possible exception of Sushchenya’s wife, assume that Sushchenya betrayed his comrades by implicating them in sabotage. With only one explanation, there can only be one outcome. Sushchenya, accepting his fate after only a mild protest of innocence, allows the partisans to take him deep into the forest, where he digs his own grave. At the last moment, Burov is wounded in a police ambush; Voitik flees, but Sushchenya returns to carry his old friend and would-be executioner to safety. As Voitik, Burov and Sushchenya struggle through the thick, emblematically Russian forest, there is no guarantee that innocence will be heard or, if heard, believed. As Sushchenya says plaintively, he used to be well-regarded in his community. Why did everyone turn against him? His question transcends the context of the war or Sushchenya’s own troubles, to interrogate the construction of identity and the frailty of trust.

Voitik’s and Burov’s identities are also questioned in a sequence of flashbacks: as Denise Youngblood points out in her review, both are accidental patriots, forced to join the partisans by chance rather than conviction. Who is responsible for this tragic narrative of confusion and deception? It would be easy to blame the Germans, whose strategy of implicating Sushchenya by default is analogous to their wider policy of imposing a mutually inimical binary of collaboration and resistance on the nations they conquer: this is what Peter Bradshaw’s review insightfully calls ‘a secret and exquisitely cruel perquisite of victory: sadistically imposing self-hate on the defeated ones, renewing the triumph by perpetuating the conquered people’s division and dismay’.  But the film’s title suggests a clue that the ultimate source of confusion may be even more abstruse than Wehrmacht policy. Bykov’s novella ends with a glimpse of a partisan column creeping through the forest, unwittingly bypassing the remains of Sushchenya’s party; Loznitsa’s film replaces this scene with a long take of sinuously billowing, dove-grey, all-concealing fog. The sound track, rather than the camera, tells the end of the story. Loznitsa’s use of fog as narrative punctuation has a major precedent in Russian literature: the Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 story The Nose, which twice interrupts its own narrative at particularly incredible points by gleefully manifesting an impenetrable cloud. As Gogol’s narrator claims, ‘But here the story is completely hidden by fog, and what happened afterwards is most definitively not known. […] After that… but here once again the entire story is covered in fog, and what happened then is certainly unknown’. Both Gogol’s and Loznitsa’s fogs revealed more than they concealed. Gogol’s metafictional mist laid bare the cliché of the omniscient narrator, drawing attention to the artificiality and arbitrariness of plot construction; Loznitsa’s all-too-real fog exposes the vulnerability of identity to misconstructions by others, and the tragic failure of speech in a world of signs.

Dr Muireann Maguire lectures in Russian at the University of Exeter; current research interests include nineteenth-century Russian literature, and twenty-first-century film adaptations of Russian science fiction.