Oliver Cross: Hollywood Escapism has its antidote... but it’s not nice

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IT’S ODD that the things which, according to the movies, most worry people are things they’re never likely to encounter, like snakes on planes, giant apes, criminal plots or fire-breathing dragons.

Which is probably because most successful films are a form of escapism, so that telling-it-like-it-is remains a fine ambition rather than a project any viable production company might want to sink funds into.

However, to counter that, I last week saw, at a near-empty daytime screening, a film called Two Days, One Night, or rather Deux Jours, Une Nuit because this was a French-language film with English sub-titles and sub-titled films are about the nearest I get to being borderline intellectual, particularly as I saw it at the rather superior Everyman cinema in Leeds, which always makes me feel that I should have come better dressed, possibly in a tweed jacket.

Anyway, the film was, by Hollywood standards, remarkably devoid of the sort of things which attract people to films. It has no shootings or stabbings, no nudity, no fantasy, not much shouting and not even any attractive scenery.

The setting is a featureless industrial town in some part of Belgium untroubled by tourists. The characters don’t have an ounce of Continental chic between them (actually, I thought, in honour of the lead actress’s wardrobe, the film could have been called Two Vest-Tops, One Pair of Jeans) and they mostly eat pizzas.

The story is centred on Sandra, a youngish mother working in a solar-panels factory and trying to recover from some sort of nervous breakdown, possibly brought on by money worries and overwork, who is told she will be laid off unless she can persuade a majority of her 16 colleagues to forgo their annual 1,000 euro (about £795) bonuses.

She spends a weekend visiting her co-workers and trying to persuade then to vote for her retention in a secret ballot. It’s really quite a gripping situation even though there’s only one lousy job at stake, rather than, as is often the case in movie-land, the future of the planet.

Sandra’s workmates, who live in basic small houses or flats and often spend their weekends doing second jobs to make ends meet, are the ‘hard-working people’ so admired by European politicians but so seldom allowed any place on film or TV screens. The situation, in its essence, is a very familiar one of staff being forced by aggressive managements to choose between their colleagues and their own survival – the choice being starker because the decline of the trade unions has mostly closed down the other options of negotiated compromises or collective action.

This is the first film I’ve seen which deals directly with the realities of modern working life, including falling real wages and job insecurity in the form of short-term contracts and the endless march of redundancy programmes, plus ceaseless reminders to European workers that they must work ever-harder to compete with their unseen rivals in, say, Asia or South America (and I wonder whether Asian and South American workers are being told, at the same time, that they must work harder to compete with European workers, global capitalism generally operating according to global management models).

The workers in the film are mostly decent people but are sometimes unable to do what they instinctively think right – supporting Sandra’s fight for a job – because they need their 1,000 euro bonuses just to survive in an anything-near comfortable manner.

The perfectly-acted film didn’t, as films should do, make me feel better in the sense of being pleasantly scared, awe-inspired, romantic or giggly; it made me feel angry that this is the way we live now.

Nice trip to Whitby but what’s happened to all the Goths?

ON SATURDAY, I joined a coach trip to Whitby on the final weekend of the school summer holidays, when even people who are no longer at school feel a sinking of the stomach; an awareness that it’s going to be a long slog to Christmas and that it’s time to think about finances, household maintenance and misery in general.

The trip was organised by the very active South Headingley Community Association, which covers all sorts of people around inner-city Leeds (including me), so that, had you watched the trippers’ disembarkation, you might have struggled to work out what their common mission was.

It couldn’t have been sea-fishing or sailing (some of the trippers were a little too old for that), nor exploring the legacies of Captain Cook or Saint Hilda (activities which tend not to engage infants), nor could it have been a cult, because our clothing was drastically uncoordinated. This was a genuinely-mixed community group and, as a consequence, didn’t look like a coherent group at all, which is no bad thing.

Whitby differs from other seaside towns in its ability to take you by surprise. In this case, I was puzzled to see that rather than the usual heavy sprinkling of Goths around the streets, there was a heavy sprinkling of Pirates – and I didn’t know whether this was because the Goths had reinvented themselves as Pirates or because there had been an unreported battle between Goths and Pirates which the Pirates had won comprehensively, even though the Pirates, while looking as bloodthirsty as anything, seemed too good-natured to threaten anybody.

I’ll miss William Hague’s undulating voice (honest)

I’VE JUST reminded myself why I’ll be sorry to see the back of William Hague, who will leave parliament at the next election to concentrate on writing books.

He was leader of the leader of the Conservative party from 1997 to 2001, when he thought the best way to establish his common touch would be to wear a baseball cap, not realising that by 2014, it would be possible to appear common just by failing to go to Eton.

The thing I’ll miss is not his recently-terminated role as Foreign Secretary (Britain’s foreign adventures being nothing to write home about), but his strange voice.

This, while striving to maintain a statesman-like dignity, is constantly subverted by abrupt changes of pitch, a swooping up-and-down delivery and apparently random pauses. Add his on-off Yorkshire accent and you end up with an unsettling blend of WE Gladstone and Eddie Waring.

It’s a voice that deserves to be heard and if, as a retirement job, Mr Hague could be persuaded to read the football results, the nation would be in his debt.

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