Boots on the Ground: Political Organizing in “Two Days, One Night”

The following is a guest post by Anthony Flores.

Imagine if every war movie was a biopic about a general. Imagine if every war movie was Patton. The granular view of the individual foot soldier, one of the most compelling perspectives to those of us who never experience war, would be lost. Gone would be genuine greats like Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, or Das Boot.

Movies about politics face a similar dilemma. The field is stuffed with Presidential biopics with unimaginative names like Lincoln, Nixon, or W. Occasionally, they will feature their staff, but these staff members are always high-placed and senior, and even then the film will be named something like The American President. It is understandable why screenwriters and audiences are interested in watching powerful people work, but they are also ignoring the real business of politics, which is run on the backs of schedulers, staff assistants, and field organizers.

Organizing is rarely portrayed in movies. As former organizer myself, I was already inclined to like the Dardennes Brothers’ Two Days, One Night. I am happy to report that it is a fantastic movie, regardless of my bias. Marion Cotillard stars as a woman who finds out on Friday she will be laid off unless her co-workers agree to forgo their bonuses. The vote is Monday.

MCotillardThis movie understands the art of political organizing. It is about recruiting and motivating volunteers to have face to face conversations. It is arduous, thankless work, but campaigns invest in it because it works. Organizing is a big reason why Barack Obama is the President of the United States and not still the junior Senator from Illinois.

So much of what is portrayed rings true to this former organizer. She builds a list. She enlists allies. She burns shoe leather to get her appeal to her voters. Each interaction is a battle. She is ignored, she is yelled at, and she is a shoulder to cry on. Every victory feels like a monumental achievement; every setback a catastrophe. It is material that could easily lend itself to melodrama, but the Dardenne Brothers skillfully avoid this in favor of a more subtle, naturalistic work. The script wisely avoids cartoonish enemies. Every time a co-worker opts for their bonus, their motivation isn’t simple greed. Their livelihood is threatened, too.

A movie like this lives and dies on the performance of its lead. Marion Cotillard delivers. At times headstrong and at times fragile, Cotillard gives a complex, nuanced performance that was rightly nominated for an Oscar. She is in almost every frame of this movie and she is always compelling.

The film was also Belgium’s selection for the Academy Award’s Best Foreign Language Film. Unfortunately, it didn’t snag a nomination. These days, a film’s chance for nominations comes to down to its publicity campaign. If the public relation firm wanted inspiration on how a campaign should be run, it should have looked no further than its own film.

My Rating: See it in the Theaters

Anthony is a campaign professional with over a decade of experience in field, technology, and polling.  He currently resides in Arcata, Ca, the Stars Hollow of the Pacific Northwest.  He can be found on twitter as @agflores.

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