Economics drive women from different social classes to desperate means in 2014’s Two Days, One Night, and 2013’s The Bling Ring. In the former, Sandra struggles to keep her job after being voted out by her fellow employees, who opted to take a bump in pay instead; in the latter, a group of young Los Angeles teens start moonlighting as petty cat burglars, robbing the homes of the rich and famous.
Just one year of release separates Two Days, One Night (Dirs. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne) and The Bling Ring (Dir. Sofia Coppola). Of course, these two films are also divided by their country of origin, and their differing negotiations with class issues. The Dardennes reach for empathy as they follow Sandra (Marion Coitillard) in her attempts to convince her fellow workers at a Belgian solar panel manufacturer to let her stay on instead of taking a bonus in pay for themselves. Coppola, continuing her artistic project characterized by fascinations with celebrity, fame, and images of wealth, takes the ‘Based on True Events’ approach in presenting the breaking-and-entering, casual larceny anticking of a bunch of spoiled rich kids, visited upon even more spoiled, richer (but more famous) kids.
In the aftermath of the global financial crisis that exploded in 2008, these films seem extra relevant, circa their respective releases in 2014 and 2013. Taken apart, the former is a gut punch, delivered over and over, as Coitillard’s Sandra begs for mercy from her fellow employees, one after another. Taken apart, the latter is a flashy satire of celebrity culture that seems a little too comfortable reveling in the mischief of it all. But, taken together, the two films offer a glimpse into a funhouse mirror – like any good double feature, they complement and converse with one another.
To watch each of these films is to commit to a structure based on the repetition of a core idea. For Sandra, it is the succession of individual meetings with her co-workers, each a balancing act between humiliation and relief. The film’s driving action is built upon the presentation of the same basic scene over and over again, with the tension maintained by the doubt cast upon the outcome of Sandra’s plea. Will her fellow employee agree to vote for her to stay on, or will he/she vote for the bonus? The film aligns us with her by making us feel every moment of the conversations; the Dardennes hold long takes, rarely cutting within the individual meetings between Sandra and the others. We see the conversation begin, we see her make her case (in dialogue that is often the same from scene to scene), and we see her get her answer.
The unbroken takes are handheld, the camera subtly bouncing as it captures the moment. As Sandra approaches each meeting, she’s centered in the frame, kept on the fence, uncertain of her fate. Centered framing, often of the symmetrical kind, is used frequently to denote power or control. A character placed in the middle of a shot dominates – here, the Dardennes strip Sandra of power by centering her, undermining typical framing strategies.
During the conversations with her co-workers, Sandra retreats to one side of the frame, and is often blocked by visual clutter – a bar, a piece of wood, among other things. The detritus keeps her at a remove, as she struggles to convince the others not only to keep her on the job, against their self-interest, but to recognize that her life has value. Sandra, who has been suffering from depression, spends the majority of the film completely alone, despite being surrounded by people and in near constant interaction with them. She’s kept there by framing strategies like those on display below.
The Bling Ring is built on repetition, as well. The film’s refrain is a scene in a celebrity’s house, as the gang, led by Katie Chang’s Rebecca, rifles through walk-ins and jewelry boxes, pilfering what they like on the assumption that the celebrities, fat with commercial goods, won’t even notice. For a while, at least, that bet is right.
Coppola makes use of a shaky camera, too, on display in the film’s opening scene, a flash forward raid on Orlando Bloom’s house that follows the Baby Bandits through the yard, trailing behind them like a co-conspirator filming for posterity. Here, Coppola’s camera becomes an extension of the thieves’ social media-driven desire to be noticed. In the aftermath of the robberies, she cuts to quickly edited montages of actual celebrity footage (aggrieved victims like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and others), mixed with the gang’s social media posts that show off their boosted loot (purses, sunglasses, and more).
While Coppola’s edits are much more frenetic than anything one would find in the Dardennes’ more leisurely paced film, it’s not hard to see similarity in the way each film is portraying the euphoric pull of financial gain, especially in the wake of an adrenaline rush, whether it’s generated by the subordinating of oneself to another human being’s generosity, or housebreaking a Hollywood socialite’s mansion. Sandra leaves each meeting with a co-worker on a peak or in the depths of a valley, depending on the answer she received. The Blingers are much the same, either riding high from the excitement of good Louis Vitton pilfered, or intense fear at a near-discovery by police. No matter how many times Sandra may say she won’t meet with another person, nor how many times Marc (Israel Broussard) insists this robbery was the last, one thing is never really in question – they’ll keep going.
For Sandra, it’s a desperate chance to prove that she is stronger than the depression that has kept her out of work in the first place, and led her fellow employees to consider her too weak to stay on at the plant. For the burglars, it’s an opportunity to share in the reflected glow of Audrina Patridge’s fame, in the hopes they might earn some of their own.
Watch The Bling Ring first. Its characters are shallow, detestable, and don’t learn anything, as evidenced in its final moments, where the recently sprung Nicki (Emma Watson), having served 30 days of a 1-year sentence, gives an interview about the time she spent in the slammer next to Lindsay Lohan, whose house she robbed. Awkward.
Follow it up with Two Days, One Night. It’s a profound reminder of a person’s real struggles, both emotional and economic, and serves as a grounded contrast to the imaginary fantasy land Coppola is satirizing.