|Two Days, One Night|
|Song of the Sea|
Two overrated art films and a gender-bending time-travel paradox headline the first week of 2015:
Marion Cotillard gives her all to the Dardenne brothers in "Two Days, One Night," as a worker at a Belgian solar panel factory who, upon returning from a medical leave for depression on a Friday in December, learns that her sixteen colleagues voted to sack her in exchange for 1,000 Euros each. Legalities aside, I didn't buy the premise: either she gets fired or they get…bonuses? In any case, due to arguable tampering, the foreman agrees to a second ballot the next Monday, in which Sandra can save her job if nine of the sixteen vote for her. The film follows her around town over the weekend, as she tracks down and pleads her case before each of them.
As you would expect from the gifted directors of "The Kid with a Bike," there are moments of great power and poignancy; several colleagues have needs just as pressing as Sandra's, and are themselves victims of the unconscionable choice put to them by their employer. But then you remember it's the Dardennes themselves who have contrived this nakedly parabolic dilemma, and you're reacting only to Cotillard and her vast reservoir of sympathy. While the encounters between Sandra and her co-workers hold your interest at first, they become redundant and sometimes overblown, with a few scenes of disproportionate violence that produce uncomfortable laughter. Time and again, a colleague will finish speaking with Sandra, only to call her back before she drives off.
Kenneth Turan's L.A. Times review of the Irish animation "Song of the Sea," in which he promised, "The day you choose to see this film is one you won't forget," packed them into the Nuart on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I wish I shared Turan's enthusiasm. There are some breathtakingly beautiful images in this story of a single father and his son and daughter, the latter of whom happens to be a Selkie (half-human, half-seal), as there were in director Tomm Moore's 2009 "The Secret of Kells." But, man, is it slow; I nodded off repeatedly during the 93-minute runtime. I heard one viewer tell his friend he'd also fallen asleep, and a mother tell her unhappy son, "What a sad, stupid story." Let me point you instead to a delightful and magical film about a Selkie, John Sayles' "The Secret of Roan Inish," which made the top half of my top-ten list in 1994.
My first recommendation of 2015, albeit a mild one, is for Michael and Peter Spierig's "Predestination," with Ethan Hawke as a time-traveling "temporal agent" given one final chance to catch the "Fizzle Bomber" before he destroys a ten-block radius of Manhattan forty years ago. I won't say much more about the clever and thought-provoking plot than that it involves Australian actress Sarah Snook, the real find here, as a hermaphroditic orphan and true-confessions writer on his/her own infinite loop through the fourth dimension. The problem with most movies in this genre - in which the faces of key players are deliberately obscured, so as to heighten the effect of the inevitable Big Reveal - is the failure to balance the intellectual exercise with genuine emotional involvement. "Predestination" has just enough heart to allow you to respect its brain.