Two Days, One Night

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Release: Friday, February 6, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

Directed by: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

It’s very difficult, if not impossible to sort through Marion Cotillard’s many impressive outings and alphabetize them in terms of brilliance. Go ahead; try it. A career like that of the 39-year-old Parisian trouper is hard to mimic for its consistency and versatility, but now with her Sandra Bya in the picture, recognizing the superlative form of Cotillard becomes much easier. This is it; this is as good as it gets with her.

There’s something Philip Seymour Hoffman-esque about the chameleonic way with which she moves through the industry. Ideally I’m suggesting only the most positive connotation in that comparison, though it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Cotillard has had some difficulty assimilating back into reality on occasion. The rabbit hole reveals its true depth when you’re committed to the verisimilitude of something like Two Days, One Night, the tenth feature film from the Dardenne brothers, one that hinges on intensely psychological performances in its frank examination of workplace competition. Not that the story she’s telling with her fragile character is confusing, but the depths she must plumb within her own mind must surely become tricky to navigate.

At a small solar panel plant in the industrial town of Seraing, Belgium Sandra has experienced a nervous breakdown and has had to take time away from her job to get healthy once again. We come crashing into her life after the fact, observing a listless body burrowing deeply into a couch that can only give her so much comfort. Her phone begins to ring. And ring. And ring. Eventually she goes to answer it, only to be met with some bad news on the other end. The foreman at Solwel has decided in her absence that the company can only justify keeping 16 of its current 17 employees, and those remaining will be able to earn their yearly bonus if they decide to vote the weak link out of the company (read: the severely depressed Sandra).

Two Days, One Night doesn’t exactly play up to the drifter’s fantasy of losing their job and going home happy about it. Even if denial becomes their shadow. The proposition has serious consequences for Sandra and her family — husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) and their two children — namely, the roof over their heads is likely to disappear and they will have to “go back on the dole,” as is explained by Sandra in a mostly trembling voice that throughout much of the film comes predicated by her popping an anti-depressant. After she and a helpful coworker convince their boss to have a second, secret ballot on the following Monday (Sandra receives the news on a Friday morning) Sandra must do her best to convince the 16 others to sacrifice their bonus so she can keep her job, and with any luck, her modest home.

Cotillard carries the weight of the world — or at least her present reality — upon shoulders, bony protrusions from underneath a coral tank top, that don’t look like they can take any more. It’s an understated performance to be sure, but confusingly enough that’s an understatement in itself. Her screen presence frequently treads the line (at least in my mind) of method acting to the point where I thought she was actually going to overdose on all those Xanax. That scene was tough to endure. Wonderful Manu, via a sublime performance from Rongione, provides the level of support and sympathy for his ailing wife one expects from a man who’s fully prepared to accept whatever life is going to throw at them after the wedding ceremony. In his finest hour, Manu insists Sandra isn’t reducing herself to beggar status by asking others to technically take pay cuts for her.

Perhaps the greatest achievement the Dardenne’s (who are these guys again, and why is this my first time watching their stuff?) are responsible for is the complete circumvention around manufactured emotion, contrived problem-solving and arguably greatest of all, melodrama. If Sandra falls, and she often does under the stress of these couple of days — quite plausibly the crux of a very trying period in this woman’s life — there are people who will catch her. Her loving husband is obligated to be at the forefront of that list of names, but there are also Solwel employees who may not react the way one might expect in the face of losing much-needed monies.

Quiet drama has all the hallmarks of a truly dark and depressing study of the uglier realities of the working class, but it is buoyed by unwavering positivity in the face of adversity that applies every bit as much to any one of us stepping into the theaters that happen to be showing this. Financial challenges are common, but Sandra’s greatest and most unique obstacle is overcoming herself.

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4-5Recommendation: While Cotillard’s character reaps the benefits of communal support, the select few who have managed to find Two Days, One Night undoubtedly reap those of a never-better Cotillard. There is heavy competition for what her finest work is, but for my money it doesn’t get any more impressive than what she effects here in a surprisingly physical and overwhelmingly emotional performance. The argument could be made her presence overshadows everything else occurring here, but the narrative presents such an interesting social dilemma I couldn’t help but buy into this — hook, line and sinker. A terrific film.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “I don’t exist. I’m nothing. Nothing at all!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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26 thoughts on “Two Days, One Night

  1. Pingback: A DSB Quick Thought | digitalshortbread

  2. I was very intrigued by the premise of this film which sounds very character-driven. Having the sublime Cotillard in the lead is VERY promising. Can’t wait to see it, I mean not every day I see a full pie here! 🙂

    • Haha, yeah I kind of felt obligated given how good Cotillard is here. This is a performance for the Oscar’s for sure. I hope she wins out, but I’m not so sure.

      Hope you enjoy this too Ruth. It’s very character-centric and the characters, in my mind at least, felt extremely real and even mostly positive and amiable. This was a great little film, although it’s too bad it will fly under so many people’s radars.

  3. Eight scrumptious slices indeed! Tom, you need to educate yourself with some more Dardenne brothers. They’ve won two or three Palme D’ors and their work is never less than brilliant. The Child (2005) is particularly absorbing.

    • Cool, dually noted Mark! Cheers man. The Child is possibly right behind The Kid With the Bike. I’m a fan of how simplistic all their titles sound, but given what I know now — I’m prepared for a heavy dose of humanity and surprisingly complex storytelling each and every time. I’m glad I’ve had the introduction finally. What an impressive duo of directors — two or three Palme’s, you say?

  4. I’d love to hear what you think of my thoughts on this film mate: http://wp.me/p4P9IW-80

    I thought this was a great write up man and I essentially agreed with every word you said. The film is so simplistic but has so much heart and humanity, not to mention relevance in the current social climate. The total lack of a soundtrack was also something I enjoyed, it really put you in each characters’ shoes with no distraction.

    I also agree Cottilard was incredible. Have you seen her in The Immigrant?? That was possibly a better Cottilard performance than this, though the two are mighty close!! Both are fantastic movies to boot. I gave it 90%, great to see you liked it even more!! One of the best French films I have seen in a while.

    Oh btw, you shall be receiving an email from me soon mate. 🙂

    peace

    • Two Days, One Night is actually a Belgian production.

      I missed the opportunity to see The Immigrant, but if I had, I suppose I would be comparing this to that performance as the waves about her towering performance certainly broke here. I am actually pretty miffed that I didn’t get to see that one. It also features one of my favorite male actors in Joaquin Phoenix in what has been deemed a decidedly villainous role, so I was curious about that.

      Thanks for the kind words Jordan, I am glad this simple production had a big impact on you as well. I really go for simplicity sometimes. When human interaction feels truly authentic, I think that’s where cinema shines brightest. It’s so very hard to affect that with a script, directors, studio heads and audiences-at-large having so much impact on what you’re trying to get accomplished.

      • Phoenix is incredible in The Immigrant also. It very much is a deliciously evil role, one in which he excelled at. Renner wasn’t bad either, but Cottilard and Phoenix were pretty amazing together. Definetely give it a watch if you get the chance, you’d dig it for sure.

        And yeah, I really love films that focus on the human condition, which unfortunately is too-often foreign films rather than English speaking ones. Winter Sleep, Force Majuere, Venus In Fur, three off the top of my head from the last year or so that took that direction. The human mind and the way we socialise will never cease to fascinate me, another reason for why I loved this so much. I am a massive Bergmann fan and this sorta stuff was his forte really.

  5. A simple movie, definitely, but also a very complex one as well. And that’s mostly thanks to the shades and layers Cotillard puts into this performance. Good review.

  6. Marion was good but what job would decide whether to rehire a sick employee back by placing that decision in the hands of said person’s co-workers? It was an obvious set-up to watch a woman put in the position to beg for her job….over and over.

    • Ah, a shame you didn’t buy into this one so much. I absolutely dug it. My favorite of the year thus far. 😀

  7. Fine review bro. Cotillard is always good. Not sure if you saw my Greatest Series post on The Best Actresses of all time, but she was in the Top 5. It surprised some people but she is that good in my opinion.

    As for the brothers, they are just exceptional. Definitely look for The Kid With the Bike. Loved that movie of theirs.

    • Ok, I thought I’ve heard/read something about The Kid with the Bike before. Perhaps it was even on your page. I did quickly browse their filmography and it appears they haven’t put out a film that has received anything less than a critical rating in the mid 80-th percentile. That’s just crazy to me! Very, very impressive CVs for both of them. And if their other films are anywhere near as realistic as this one felt to me, I can’t wait to see their other stuff.

      I’ll need to go check out that list you speak of. I don’t think I’ve seen it. :\

  8. Keen to see this Tom. Cotillard’s usually great and I’ve no previous experience with the Dardennes so I’d like to see what the fuss is about.

    • Hey Stu, sounds like you’re approaching this flick with the same expectation levels as I. I have always been a semi-big fan of Cotillard up until now. But this film actually turned me into one of her biggest. She’s absolutely great in this one. Can’t wait to hear your report sir.

    • Haha, that’s pretty funny — I was about to include a link to my review of TDKR b/c I loved her in that too. She pretty much can’t do wrong in my eyes. . . so you better think *very* carefully before u say anything more about her. . .! Lol, totes jokes.

        • Okay that’s legit. Her death scene was a bit hammy. I think everyone’s made too big of a deal out of the way she and Bane go down, but when Nolan’s set the stakes on everything else so very high, it’s easy to nitpick into that kind of stuff I suppose. Agree though on her being a favorite. This was the kind of role that made her my tippy-top favorite (for now anyway). We’ll see in another couple of months.

          I’m waiting on that Julianne Moore performance in ‘Still Alice’ too. . .

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