Directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne
What the Dardenne brothers capture so well in their films is what the best Italian neorealist films (particularly De Sica’s & Visconti’s films) capture, the feeling of being trapped and the futility of trying to escape. Although it was their previous film The Kid With a Bike that explicitly referenced Bicycle Thieves, it’s Two Days, One Night that makes one of most impactful additions to the realist tradition in modern times.
Sandra (Marion Cotillard) loses her job at a small business making solar panels. Her colleagues were given the choice to either receive a €1000 bonus and allow Sandra to be made redundant, or to give up their bonus and allow Sandra to be kept on. She loses the first vote 14 to 16 but another vote is scheduled for Monday, two days after the first vote, after it is decided that the boss, Jean-Marc (Olivier Gourmet)(the bastard), unfairly influenced the vote. As a result Sandra has the weekend to whip the votes needed to keep her job and so visits each of her colleagues individually.
Aside from the absurdity of Marion Cotillard every being without a job, as if she couldn’t just walk into any modelling agency and be hired on the spot, her performance is the focal point on which all that is positive about the film hinges. Perpetually exhausted, Cotillard perfectly captures being caught between having to persevere through sole-crushingly humiliating discourses, whilst being on the edge of breaking down. The inevitable humiliation of the conversations is compounded by the unrelenting gaze of the camera. Each negotiation, shot in real-time, in a two shot, leaves no escape for the viewer or for Sandra.
Two Days, One Night steers clear of the kind of romanticised camaraderie amongst the working class that Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake portrays, and it’s a better film for it. Each colleagues’ response, wherever it places on the scale from sympathy to reluctance to anger, are all justifiable, or at the very least understandable. Implicit throughout the negative encounters is the discouraging possibility that even if Sandra does manage to keep her job there will always be a bitter sector of co-workers that will always resent her.
The sense of claustrophobia built through the narrative of Two Days, One Night manifests in Sandra’s mental health problems. However, rather than being a tacked on shock tactic or easy form of emotional manipulation, her mental fragility (until the suicide attempt) lurks in the subconscious of the viewers minds and are always an exacerbating factor behind each encounter. It’s rarely mentioned explicitly but the question on the part of the colleague, who holds all the power, is ever-present; ‘is she even fit enough to do the job?’ Or rather ‘can I convince myself that she isn’t fit enough to do the job in order to alleviate the guilt I will inevitably feel and get the €1000?’ Throughout the film Sandra requires an extraordinary amount of metal strength to make it through each encounter, battling against the inevitable pitiful begging that one would feel in such a situation, through no fault of their own.
The film moves with a relentlessness that enables a sharp contrast of emotions with seemingly effortless simplicity. Sandra can go from suicidal to singing in the car with her husband and a new-found friend, and it never feels forced or even unnatural. A new found friend, incidentally, whose life she has unalterably changed, probably for the better, but nevertheless, Sandra exists and has an impact on other peoples lives. This is what I think Sandra as a character takes out of the whole episode, and what the Dardenne brothers offer as a moral. Sandra could take the place of a colleague but she doesn’t because she knows that colleague helped her in her time of need. Yet this never feels sentimental or fake as it would in some other (American, not that this film would ever get close to being made in the states) films. Two Days, One Night is a film of tragedy and beauty drawn-out through simplicity, a triumph for realist film.
Rating – 78/100