Directed by Jean-Peirre and Luc Dardenne
Starring Marrion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione
Just as Sandra (Marrion Cotillard) is ready to return to work after months of sickness, she finds out she may no longer have a job to go back to. In the interim her company has found that it can do the same work with one less worker, so they have given the workers a choice between being paid their bonus, or keeping Sandra on the payroll (a vote which was overwhelmingly in favour of the bonus). However after it is discovered that a supervisor unfairly biased the vote, Sandra has one weekend to see her workmates and sway their opinions before a second vote on Monday.
The genius of Two Days, One Night is that it takes a tale of chasing a vote count (as you would see in a grander political drama such as West Wing or House Of Cards) and moves it to a small and personal stage. Here the Dardenne brothers create a situation where the chase for each individual vote brings tension and is a struggle. It allows for a variety of reactions and each confrontation produces its own drama. For the audience it is always a revelation how the scene will play out and all the extremes of reaction are mined by this script as the workers’ personalities, desires and circumstances effect their decision. It is heartbreaking to see some of these reactions as the choice is always put in terms of sacrifice, rather than just mere greed for what the bonus can bring.
At the same time it is a battle against Sandra’s personal demons, as she wrestles with her depression. Each victory or defeat plays out here, affecting her motivation, buoying or dashing her hopes. It raises the question as to whether she is actually fit to return to work, and if the sacrifice she is asking others to make will ultimately be in vain. It adds an extra level of tension, raising the stakes nicely, as well as giving some justification to the doubts expressed by some of her co-workers.
Actress Marion Cotillard (The Dark Knight Rises) inhabits the role of Sandra. The audience is quickly immersed, losing sight of the actress and only seeing a frayed human being that is being pushed to her limit and beyond. She is struggling with her mental health and her economic needs, but that is weighed against the needs of her workmates. It is a subtle performance, without many moments of high drama, but she conveys the constant drain of such an undertaking perfectly.
From beginning to end Two Days, One Night makes the most of its simple premise, by mining it for all its worth, and by letting its central performance shine. It is a film that could easily be swamped by the issues it is talking about (financial austerity or mental health), but instead manages to be a deeply personal reminder of the power of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.
Two Days, One Night plays at Somerville, UWA, until Sunday January 11, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, January 13, until Sunday, January 18, as part of the Lotterywest Festival Film Season. For tickets and session times, go to perthfestival.com.au.