Two Days, One Night

★★★★
You’d have to have a heart of stone not to react to a film this emotional.
Movie Review #966

deux_jours_une_nuit

It’s the reality of “Two Days, One Night” that makes it such an emotional movie. Marion Cotillard, in her most dynamic role since Édith Piaf in “La Vie en rose”, offers that intense reality as Sandra, a woman living in an industrial town in Belgium. She has just pulled herself out of a bout of depression, only to find that her boss wants her fired. Sandra is perhaps the most valued at her job, but the man in charge of the company doubts her abilities to work up to her previous standards after her bout of depression.

Sandra begs to differ, and frankly, so do all her coworkers. However, the owner of the company has used them all as pawns to discreetly fire Sandra. It is on a Friday that he hands out ballots to Sandra’s 16 coworkers. He gives them the choice to keep Sandra and lose their bonus (1,000 euros), or to let Sandra go and keep their bonus. The decision, unfortunately, is to let Sandra go, but only because so many of Sandra’s coworkers are in need of their bonuses. Sandra won’t give up, though, because she has a husband and two kids to support. She can’t afford to lose her job. She appeals to her boss, who then agrees to recollect the ballots on Monday. This gives Sandra two days and one night to find a majority of her coworkers (9 of them) who are willing to give up their bonuses to keep her on the team. It’s a question of stabilizing their respective financial situations, versus sparing the hardest worker among them. It’s not an easy decision for any of them to make.

“Two Days, One Night” is a brief but outstanding slice of life. Its body succeeds from the art–not the flaw–of repetition. For at least an hour of the film (which barely exceeds 90 minutes), we watch Sandra driving from one house to the next to pose the same heart-wrenching question of her coworkers. There’s not much that explicitly changes, but what’s right in front of us isn’t what matters. It’s Sandra’s changing outlook on the situation, evident in Cotillard’s lifelike and riveting delivery of the character, that makes a difference in the story.

“Two Days, One Night” gives its story and ignores the question so many other movies beg: “Is the story interesting?” Instead, it moves onto a greater question: “What do you feel about the story?” It’d take a heart of stone not to react to the film in some way or another. Rather than interesting, this film is demanding and realistic. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes’s direction effectively involves their audience as if we were witnessing every event that appears on the screen. As with several other films from the directors, the only music here is a song we hear on the radio in one scene. The cinematography acts so often as an onlooker to the situation. It puts us in the place of an onlooker–one who feels irrevocably drawn to the situation.

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4 thoughts on “Two Days, One Night

  1. I was a bit baffled by the outpouring of critical praise for this one. Marion Cotillard gives a fine performance as always but the narrative is just her begging one person after another for her job. It grew tedious after awhile.

  2. Great review of one of my favorite films of 2014. Marion was splendid. I especially agree with this: “Its body succeeds from the art–not the flaw–of repetition…There’s not much that explicitly changes, but what’s right in front of us isn’t what matters. It’s Sandra’s changing outlook on the situation, evident in Cotillard’s lifelike and riveting delivery of the character, that makes a difference in the story.”

  3. Really, really liked this one. Marion Cotillard was absolutely phenomenal. What I loved was that it didn’t judge anyone; everyone had his or her own reason for needing the money, and the movie treated the situation with nuance and with care. It was great.

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