Two Days, One Night

December 20, 2014

Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a woman who is battling with depression and also to keep her job working at a solar panel manufacturer. The management have decided that they cannot afford to pay the rest of the staff their bonuses of €1000 as well as keep Sandra in employment (it becomes clear she has been absent from work for a time due to her depression). In fact, a ballot has already been cast to let the staff themselves decide if Sandra should stay or if they should be paid their bonuses at the expense of her job. Only two of sixteen votes were for her to stay. However after suggestions that the foreman unfairly influenced the voters the ballot is allowed to be retaken and Sandra thus has a weekend in which to try and encourage her fellow workers to cast their votes her way.

The Critics Said

“Even if you’ve skipped the Dardennes’ work until now, this is a talking-point movie — and an outstanding lead performance — you need to see. It’s a rare film of unforced simplicity that will stick with you for a long time. And it’s honest right to its perfectly judged ending.” – Kim NewmanEmpire

Details

Two Days, One NightOriginal title: Deux jours, une nuit
Country: Belgium, France, Italy
Language: French, Arabic, English
Year: 2014
Directors: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Writers: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salée
Runtime: 95 minutes

Our View

Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit) is the first film for which Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne have filmed a major star, casting Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard in the lead role. The working method of the directors, however, didn’t change with an Academy Award-winner as part of the cast: ‘What we normally do with actors, whether professional or not, is to work on the body, their physicality. Dialogue is very important, but the body is equally important.’[1] This philosophy is evident from the opening scene of Two Days, One Night when we first see the frailty of Cotillard’s figure, notably thinner than when she starred in Jacques Aduiard’s Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os, 2012).

Cotillard plays Sandra, a woman who is battling with depression and also to keep her job working at a solar panel manufacturer. The management have decided that they cannot afford to pay the rest of the staff their bonuses of €1000 as well as keep Sandra in employment (it becomes clear she has been absent from work for a time due to her depression). In fact, a ballot has already been cast to let the staff themselves decide if Sandra should stay or if they should be paid their bonuses at the expense of her job. Only two of sixteen votes were for her to stay. However after suggestions that the foreman unfairly influenced the voters the ballot is allowed to be retaken and Sandra thus has a weekend in which to try and encourage her fellow workers to cast their votes her way.

These are the two days that the film focuses on and it is clear from the start that Sandra would not be up to her task were it not for the support of her family and friends, in particular her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione). Sandra’s temperament fluctuates between tentative optimism and deep self-doubt and pessimism with every yes or no that her co-workers give her. It is mainly up to Manu to encourage her when she at her lowest and it is evident that he has had experience dealing with her depression already. His patience and persistent optimism are often the only things that keep pushing Sandra in her task.

Sandra’s campaign consists of little more than knocking upon her co-workers’ doors to try and convince them to vote for her. As Manu keeps reminding her, especially when she suffers setbacks, it makes a difference that she is there face-to-face to talk to them. Her friend, Juliette (Catherine Salée), argues the same point, which is validated by the fact that their boss has decided to cast another ballot in the first place, Sandra’s presence when Juliette argues her case proof enough that she is well enough to work. Her visits to the homes of her co-workers, however, are not all received as positively, her presence in most of these cases inciting a range of emotional responses, from embarrassment to disinterest to anger. The Dardennes skilfully allow the viewer to empathise with every one of these people. Sure, we’re rooting for Sandra to succeed but we can also understand the reasons why some of her colleagues deny her. The situation for many of them is just as tenuous as hers and €1000 represents a significant sum of money. Even Anne (Christelle Cornil), who initially refuses to vote for Sandra merely because they need the money to build a new patio, has a complicated personal life which eventually causes her to become one of Sandra’s closest allies. Much of the discomfort for Sandra, and for the viewer, is this necessity of invading other peoples’ personal space in order to discuss the matter, particularly as some of them see it as Sandra directly taking money out of their pocket. But the people we can most empathise with are those that want to help but can’t: ‘It’ll be a disaster for me if the majority backs you, but I hope for your sake they do,’ says one. Surely there are few who would condemn this perspective. This task of having to change stubborn minds is distinctly reminiscent of 12 Angry Men (1957), yet where Henry Fonda changed the minds of his fellow jurors through logical argument of the evidence, Sandra is reliant on her co-workers responding on a positive emotional level to her situation and having the compassion – and the circumstances – to make a sacrifice of their own to help her.

As is typical of a Dardenne brothers film, there is little exposition to fill in Sandra’s backstory. Instead the facts are teased out through various phone conversations and Sandra’s visits to her co-workers. The pace of her campaign is slow; she seems to spend as much time waiting for an answer to a closed door as she does actually speaking to the people behind them. The directors don’t condescend to make it look easy for her and we never really get the sense that Sandra is well, even as she tries to convince her co-workers that she is. After she has paid all of her visits though there is already a sense of closure, a feeling that regardless of the result come Monday, the fact that Sandra has overcome her anxieties to fulfil this task is a significant step towards her recovery.

Two Days, One Night is a subtle, sensitive look at Sandra’s depression and Cotillard’s performance is the highlight, the fragility of her character reminiscent of her roles in Rust and Bone and La Vie en Rose (2007). As in those films there is a naiveté to Cotillard’s character, her appeals to her colleagues’ sense of togetherness appearing somewhat starry-eyed when measured against the practical uses they would have for the extra money. After all, how many of us would turn down the opportunity to pay off a year’s worth of bills in return for a greater feeling of togetherness? Despite the idealism of the sentiment, however, this is what Sandra is really looking for. When Monday arrives and after the votes have been counted she is given the opportunity to fulfil this need herself, rather than relying on a majority of her peers. ‘I’m happy,’ she tells Manu afterwards and for the first time, we can believe her.

[1] Interview with TimeOut, Aug 2014: http://www.timeout.com/london/film/the-dardenne-brothers-interview-the-body-is-very-important

Video

More by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

The ChildThe Child (1995) – One of the director pair’s most celebrated films, L’enfant won the Palme d’Or at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. The directors’ naturalistic touch is applied to the bleakest of circumstances when a young couple sell their newborn son to help lift them from the dire straits.

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