Two Days One Night (2014) is a film about Sandra (played by Marion Cotillard), a young Belgian mother, who discovers that her workmates have opted for a significant pay bonus, in exchange for her dismissal. She has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job. In the film, the workplace becomes a battleground, these are struggling workers with families and not CEOs or fat cats. Sandra finds and creates solidarity, uncovering people’s true nature as well as her own.
Identity and Work raises the question: Is this something that could happen in real life?
And considers people’s WorkLife stories in the same way the directors/writers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne did. They said the idea came from reading news stories about similar situations where workers solidarity was challenged.
Today I’m revisiting a story of a film review I wrote some time ago, which I’ve revised for this week’s blog and podcast.
In my original post, I posed the question: Has the recent recession added to what Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne said about people competing with each other for their jobs, and if this in fact social realism? Today I’m curious about how the pandemic we’re all living through right now will impact this. Central to the brother’s idea is validation through work, a precarious concept in an era of widespread unemployment. In an interview with the Guardian, the brothers are quoted as saying: “If you don’t have a job, you are made to feel like an outcast from your community. Possibly in the future people will find another way to be part of the community that is not connected to work but for now that is where meaning lies. From an anthropological point of view, that is how mankind feels a sense of belonging.” http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/aug/07/-sp-dardenne-brothers-marion-cotillard-two-days-one-night
Sandra’s Story: Identity and Work, The Subtlety of Persuasion and The Importance of Being Present
Cotillard talks about the difficulty of portraying her character, Sandra, because basically she has the same thing to say ten times. She had to find the evolution, the slight details that created the drive and motivation to keep Sandra moving even though she is telling people the same thing in her endeavours to persuade them to vote for her to keep her job and give up their bonuses. The tiniest changes in each scene meant Sandra’s confidence would go up and down and everything she could build up from those little differences would help her to identify how to angle each pitch she made.
Each meeting was filmed in real time. This allowed each of the characters to be fully present, and accentuated the tension and the movements within that tension. The shots were addictive, which draw the audience in. It’s like watching a live match: will they score, won’t they score.
The brothers spend a lot of time in the rehearsal process. They talk about rehearsal allowing the actors to be truly present, and it’s only when they are truly present that the scene can exist and the tensions and rhythms arise. They say rehearsals allow the exploration of tracks, which then don’t need to be explored again. They say you only get the picture right once: there’s only one shot possible. There’s room for manoeuvre because they’re on the right track. They acknowledge that while every actor is different, the work of creating a presence is the same. They achieve this by acknowledging that everyone was equally important, making the scenes possible because everyone had a leading role that demanded of them to be truly present in each moment, allowing the actors in turn to have more of a presence.
The art of persuasion, negotiation and influence is built on the same powers of observation, the ability to notice the minutest change, to be fully present in the moment and to react in real-time is of utmost importance. Marion said for her character, Sandra, that this was imperative because these subtleties meant what she was repeatedly saying was almost but not the same thing, and as the brothers say “there’s only one shot possible”.
Actors use a range of techniques when preparing for a role. Let’s consider techniques from the renowned theatre practitioner, Constantin Stanislavski, whose work remains at the forefront of actor training today, and how these techniques are applicable in the world of our WorkLives, and the impact they have on persuasion and being present.
Super-Objective: (Stanislavski) Focuses on the entire situation (film/play) as a whole and serves as the final goal the actor wishes to achieve. For Sandra, it’s to keep her job. This goes to the heart of her identity and to her well-being.
Working with this objective in mind, the actor must then find the appropriate personal pain that can drive this objective. The pain must be powerful enough to inspire the actor to fearlessly commit to do whatever it takes to win their objective.
Aristotle defined the struggle of the individual to win as the essence of all drama. As a non-actor when you find yourself in a position where you need to influence, persuade or negotiate you need to start with your super objective (your goal) in knowing what it is you want more than anything from the situation/interaction, then identify your pain: what are the stakes; what is it you could lose; and what are the bigger implications of losses. For Sandra, underlying the loss of her job was the loss of identity her work gave her, and the negative impact on her well-being.
In An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski, Scene-Objective focuses on what the actor wants over the course of an entire scene, that supports their super-objective. For Sandra it begins with understanding each of her work colleague’s position on the situation. This inevitably leads to external circumstances that are impacting their decision.
From this point she can gauge how to pitch her plea to vote for her to keep her job and give up their bonuses. While she may not get immediate agreement, she recognises no matter how small the win is, the important thing is to end the scene in a different position from where she started. She needs to make enough of an impact for them to at least consider their position. She also needs to be prepared to learn which votes she can’t count on. This information, although crushing, helps her position in knowing where to focus her energy and efforts in the next round of discussions, and what changes she needs to make to her pitch/plea.
The book says: “That inner line of effort that guides the actors from the beginning to the end of the play we call the continuity of the thorough-going action. This through-line galvanises all the small units and objectives of the play and directs them toward the super-objective. From then on they all serve the common purpose.”
Words of Wisdom
When you find yourself in a situation where you need to persuade one or more people, begin as Sandra did by understanding their position and their thinking and circumstances behind this. A question that helped Sandra in preparing for each conversation was: What impact does me keeping my job have on my colleagues’ life? In posing this question to herself, she was able to give herself in the moment feedback by being fully present, in knowing what to say and how to handle the conversation. We tend to listen more when the stakes rise. As the stakes rise we also begin to sense the other’s underlying thought impulses. As the situation becomes more important, we struggle to predict what will happen. Immersing yourself in the world of that relationship and its parameters strengthens your capacity for clear and honest observation, and will help you to plan, tweak and strengthen your approach. Aim for small wins and remember the importance of ending each interaction in a different position from which you started, learning from this and moving on from a more informed standpoint.
In a changing world so much has shifted in the last few months because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the past I’ve delivered outplacement programmes to individuals and groups, supporting people in managing the emotional and practical elements in moving their WorkLife forward in times of uncertainty. Throughout this I’ve never ceased to be amazed by people’s resilience, their ability to pick themselves back up, and to come through challenging times and situations with an even greater sense of purpose and determination. If I were to reflect on what’s different about this current time – which we’re all living through together, while apart – it would be the sense of community that’s coming through. The sense of caring about, and recognising the importance of our family, our friends, our neighbours, and our wider community. A greater sense of appreciation of and for life.
I leave you today with a quote from the National Theatre Home to ponder on: “Theatres and the arts are a positive force for our community in turbulent times.”
The reviews I write are by way of reflecting on cultural experiences to include performing, visual and literary arts that touched my heart and my mind, and making sense of them in the context of learning and development in both the work-place and the community.
Today’s book of the blog is: An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski
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WorkLife Book Wisdom
The intention of this blog is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride.
My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.