Hard Choices. Movies Reviewed: Two Days, One Night, Escobar: Paradise Lost

Posted in Belgium, Clash of Cultures, Crime, Cultural Mining, Depression, Drama, drugs, Family, Movies by CulturalMining.com on January 16, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

What do you do when faced with an impossible choice? We all face hard decisions, so this week I’m looking at two such dramas: a woman in Belgium whose co-workers’ choice could change her life, and a young man in Colombia whose choice could end someone else’s life.

6bd2ac3a-afd4-48f5-9461-2f221f64c7ebTwo Days, One Night
Dir: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Sandra (Marion Cotillard) is depressed. She lives in Belgium with her daughter and her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione). At night she bakes tasty tarts for her family in her beautiful house. And during the day she puts on her white uniform to start work at a solar panel factory.

But yesterday something terrible happened and today she is deeply depressed. She had just gone back to her job after recovering from a long illness. And almost immediately her boss asks her coworkers to make a fatal decision. They’re told either Sandra keeps her job or they each get a 90aa5301-67b8-456d-b524-d70e008bedff1000 Euro Christmas bonus. One or the other. Which one would you choose?

So she gets fired. But without her income her family might lose their home… and move into public housing.

After a short conversation, her boss agreed to have a second vote on Monday at work. So her husband and a conscientious workmate tell Sandra what she must do. That weekend, visit each of your workmates and plead with them, one by one, to change their vote, and let her keep her job. And she only has two days and one night to do it. It’s a simple ff5e49a1-586f-44a2-ae2f-5226388ad008story, and. to be honest, a dull one. Sandra attempts to connect with all of her diverse workmates over one weekend: recent immigrants, locals, old and young, single and married, kids / no kids.  The interesting part is the unexpected responses she gets when she talks to them – some sympathetic, others shockingly hostile. And it follows the lead actress, the great Marion Cotillard, as she reacts to them: one moment she’s elated, the next her hopes are crushed into the dirt, as she visits them one by one. Along with a few dramatic surprises.

I liked this heartfelt drama.  It’s shot in that European style of stark hyper-realism, and looks like the Dardennes’ other movies: I’m used to it. It’s the characters and acting that make it watchable. Especially Marion Cotillard, the main reason for seeing this movie: she gives a fantastic performance.

PL-D02-IMG_0732Escobar: Paradise Lost
Dir: Andrea Di Stefano

Nick (Josh Hutcherson) is a young Canadian who follows his brother down south to Colombia. He wants to camp with him on a beautiful beach near Medeillin. It’s a secret paradise with palm trees, sandy beaches and crystal blue waters. Well, one day he meets a pretty woman with raven hair and beautiful smile. And smart too. Her name is Maria (Claudia Traisac) and they hit it off. Maria wants Rick to meet her uncle Pablo. He’s so nice, he’s like a father to her. What does he do? A local politician, and he brings schools and medical care to the poor people in this area. They love him.

So off they go to Uncle Pablo’s estate. He seems to be a nice, thoughtful PL-D09-IMG_4449and very religious guy.He says he’ll Nick like his own son. But most local politicians can’t afford massive swimming pools, enormous mansions, horse stables and pet elephants. Nick wonders how did he earn his fortune? Oh, says Maria, it’s cocaine. The locals have been cultivating coco leaves for centuries. Uncle Pablo just helps export an important national product. And his last name? He is Pablo Escobar, the world-famous drug lord.

After this, Nick, or Nico as Escobar like to call him, starts to notice PL-D17-IMG_9462strange things. Like when he tells Escobar they’re being harassed by local thugs on the beach the problem suddenly disappears… and so do the three thugs. And on Escobar’s estate, Nick sees people in clothes dripping with blood… human blood. But Nick is spared most of the violence until a big turning point. Escobar, who is at war with the central government, makes a deal to turn himself in. But first he calls in his most trusted family members – including Nick – and PL-D14-IMG_0732henchmen, to help him safely hide his vast riches while he’s out of the game. But, soon enough, Nick realizes there’s more to it than that. He might have to murder someone to keep Escobar safe. Is Escobar a father figure or a cold-blooded killer? Can Nick escape from this spiral of crime and death? And what about his fiancée? How do you PL-D44-IMG_4388solve a problem like Maria?

Escobar: Paradise Lost is a gangster pic with a twist. Nick is a peaceful, naïve outsider who finds himself embroiled in Escobar’s criminal enterprises. It’s part biopic drama, part thriller. The biopic part is just so-so. Luckily the thriller part is the final third of the movie, and by far the most interesting. Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games, The Kids are Alright) is a good movie star to watch – -sympathetic and believable as Nick: mainly bland and chill, heating up near the end. But Benicio Del Toro gives a nuanced portarayal of that super-sketchy mountain of flesh known as Escobar. Not bad.

Ingrid Veninger The Animal ProjectTwo Days, One Night opens today in Toronto, and Escobar: Paradise Lost also opens today in theatres and on VOD: check your local listings. Also, tonight only, at the newly re-opened Innis Town Hall, at Innis College there’s a free screening of The Animal Project. And a talk and Q&A by Screenwriter-in-Residence Ingrid Veninger, and the cast as well, so don’t miss it. And if you’re curious to learn more about the situation Charlie Hebdo, long before the massacre, check out the 2008 documentary by Daniel Leconte, C’est dur d’etre aime par des cons or Its Hard Being Loved by Jerks. It’s free online: go to myfrenchfilmfestival.com .

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for CIUT 89.5 FM and culturalmining.com



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