Among other things, “Two Days, One Night” poses the question, “how far would you go to get your job back and how hard would you fight?” Written and directed by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, “Two Days, One Night” is a film about friendship, morality, love and the will to live. That covers a lot of territory but the Dardennes handle it all spectacularly well.
The film is set in Seraing, an industrial town in the Belgian province of Liège. Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a wife and mother, was an employee in one of its industrial plants and has been on sick leave for depression…for what…we’re never told, but whatever the cause, it was extremely powerful. Ready to come back to work, Sandra’s been told that management gave her co-workers a choice of bringing her back and getting no bonus or letting her go and getting a bonus. A vote was taken and she came out on the losing end. However, she’s encouraged by an associate who’s also a friend, Juliette (Catherine Salée), to talk to their supervisor and ask for another vote based on the fact that some people might have been given questionable information about the nature of the vote. It takes a lot of convincing by Juliette and Sandra’s husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), but Sandra finally agrees and she just makes the deadline her boss has given to meet with him. He relents to another vote on the coming Monday. There are 16 votes and she needs a majority of them to win back her job. This means her weekend will be spent calling on co-workers and making her case for their vote. The process sounds a lot easier than it is. For someone recovering from depression as is Sandra, summoning up the courage and strength to make phone calls and in-person visits is not simple under normal circumstances, let alone when one’s confidence is not in top-notch shape.
The Dardenne brothers have written a terrific, relatable story. Through them we meet a variety of every day, working-class citizens. None of them have a vendetta against Sandra—they just have their own lives to lead and we see how each thinks about Sandra’s situation differently. The Dardennes also use music very effectively to demonstrate the changing spirit of their character.
Marion Cotillard is simply perfect in capturing the sadness and uncertainty Sandra still feels. You believe her character’s awkwardness as she talks with her co-workers. Her character doesn’t want pity…she just wants what she believes is fair. Cotillard manages to pull all of this off. Watching her portray Sandra’s growth—from the very bottom of despair to real progress and rise in her self-esteem is a master-class in acting. Hers is an incredible performance and well worth the price of admission.
“Two Days, One Night” is Belgium’s submission for the foreign language film category for the upcoming the 87th Academy Award and deservedly so.
3 ½ nuggets out of 4