Two Days, One Night

Two Days, One Night (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Fourteen out of sixteen employees voted to terminate Sandra (Marion Cotillard) in exchange for a bonus of one thousand euros. But Sandra, who has a history of depression, is getting another chance: Due to a certain piece of information that might have impacted the votes, there will be another election the coming Monday. Over the weekend, she hopes to visit her colleagues and try to persuade them to change their votes.

“Two Days, One Night,” written and directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, is told with such simplicity and honesty that just about every passing minute commands tension. We follow Sandra from the moment she receives the news about her possible termination until the moment she learns whether she will still have a job. There is no sentimentality. There is only a difficult situation and the person in the middle of it.

Some might wonder whether a situation like the picture presents can or does happen in real life. I didn’t care either way because what is at stake is important. If Sandra gets terminated, she and her husband (Fabrizio Rongione) will not be able to afford the mortgage and so they must rely on some sort of financial assistance to get by. We get a chance to see how their family lives. They are not destitute but we can surmise based on the kind of bedsheets they have, the space of their place, the decorations on the wall, and the like that they are likely to fall somewhere in a lower socioeconomic status. Notice the kind of food that is put on the table for the children.

There are emotional moments and it is a challenge not to be able to empathize. These are shot in an intelligent and mature way. For instance, when Sandra feels like breaking down and crying, her suffering is not front and center. Notice that her body is turned away from the person nearest to her and also away from the camera—as if she is ashamed to be perceived as weak for shedding tears.

Most of the time, Cotillard leaves me cold with her acting because there is something about her that is not easily accessible. Sometimes even I find her to have a whiny undertone. Not here. Sure, she is made to look unglamorous, sporting no makeup, the straps of her bra always visible. But she gives something special. I noticed that Sandra has a real smile and one that she employs to force herself to feel better. Because the filmmaking can be considered minimalist, small things like facial expressions are magnified.

It is difficult to guess whether a particular co-worker will eventually give in to refuse the considerable bonus and allow Sandra to keep her job. This is because the actors who play them come across as real people one might encounter in the street. Because it is a challenge, we look closer. We note the body languages, the tone in the voices, whether there is eye contact. We are engaged.

“Deux jours, une nuit” is the kind of film I look for. It takes a simple premise and we watch the character to sink or swim amongst the challenges thrown at her. The ending, as expected from a Dardenne brothers film, is not only perfectly handled but it also feels exactly right.

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