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2 Must See 2014 Foreign Language Films Up for Oscars: Leviathan, 2 Days 1 Night

February 18, 2015
Reviews by Ron Wells of two Foreign/Subtitled feature films up for 2014 Academy Awards which will be held Sun. Feb. 22, 2015.
Two Days, One Night. Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

Because of her depression, a woman takes a leave of absence from a small factory job. She recovers from her illness and on the weekend before she is due to return to work , she finds out that the company’s owner and his top manager have given her 16co-workersthe option of having a bonus of 1,000 Euros each, or allowing the woman, Sandra, to have her job back. The workers vote for the bonus.Sandra persuades the owner to take another vote on Monday morning, and he reluctantly agrees to do so. She now has the weekend to find all of her co-workers and try to persuade them to change their vote.

Marion Cotillard is Sandra and this is another in a string of wonderful performances by Cotillard (along with The Immigrant this year).

Not as dramatic as she was as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, this is a subtle and nuanced performancebyCotillard as Sandra fights the return of her depression while essentially begging her co-workers to give up the bonus and vote so she can come back to work,rather than forcing her family—husband and two children—to go back on welfare where they were before she got the job.As she approaches each of people she works with, she hears theirtrials and tribulations as well. This is a powerful tale of lower class lives and corporate ruthlessness, andCotillard makes us feel as if we were watching a real person in a documentary as Sandra faces each person, her emotions simmering beneath the surface.Her performance will probably not beat Julianne Moore for best actress, but Cotillard makes us ache for her as she fights for her job and her life in a naturalistic performance that has a somewhat surprising ending. A well deserved Oscar nomination for one of the best actresses working today.



A Leviathan is a sea monster, usually a whale, and yet the whale we see most often here is the skeletal remains of one that has washed on shore, having died long ago. That is the bleak, persuasive image used in a film that begins and ends with shots of the land and sea surrounding a small Russian village. The landscape will always remain, but what goes on in the village exemplifies all the pain and tragedies that humans bring upon one another in their short lifetimes.

Kolia is a father and husband who has been in the courts fighting the mayor and city government to stop them from taking his house and land for a fraction of it’s worth. What ensues is a bureaucracy tied up in legalese that cares little for the people it serves, a mayor who is corrupt and ruthless, and a church that speaks of “truth”  and “God” while siding with the rich and powerful.

The film is very Russian in its bleakness, and throws in a touch of the biblical Job in Kolia who cannot understand why nothing but bad things are happening to him. There’s a lot of Vodka that’s drunk in attempts to ease the pain, but in the end, the smallness and powerlessness of the common man may be Kolia’s fate. There are moments of insightful humor, yet this movie pushes the darkness and universality of its themes. That is, the power and corruption of humans in small towns (or countries), reflecting people’s need to destroy or hurt others in order to get what they want.

In the end, of course, none of it matters, for the land and sea will remain and the great human leviathan will be nothing but bones washed up on a beach. Echoes of Solzenitsyn, Dostoyevsky, and other Russian writers resonate through the valleys of this film.

Powerful, well-made, well-acted, and one can only watch Kolia and wonder along with him, “Why me, God?” There is only the sound of the waves crashing against the jagged cliffs of the shore and then silence.

Best Foreign Language Film

Best Foreign Language Film

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Cast: Alexey Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Roman Madyanov, Vladimir Vdovitchenkov
Duration: 141 mins
Country of Origin: Russia

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