Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
Two Days, One Night refers to the amount of time that Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a young Belgian mother, has to convince all of her fellow workers to keep her job. Her co-workers were posed with an opportunity that was misleading yet enticing: not everyone could be kept at their factory, so by cutting off one employee, all of them would be provided a raise. Due to the working class infrastructure of these families and their desire for a higher income, the decision was simple; they wanted to keep their jobs and didn’t want to be fired, so naturally they’d get rid of another worker. But the workers were misled by their supervisor, leading Sandra to plead for a recount on Monday and give the others the weekend to deliberate. This simple premise allows for Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the talented Belgian writer-directors, to explore a human in her most fragile state. The result is one of the finest films from 2014, a beautiful examination of a struggling woman put in the hands of her comrades.
Sandra has a nervous breakdown that causes her to leave work for a considerable amount of time. During her time away, the workers realize that they can cover her hours, working slightly longer each day, and making more money in the process. The management ends up convincing the employees that Sandra is redundant, and the greater pay (in addition to the proposed “bonus,” which is simply a distribution of Sandra’s yearly wages) leads almost all of them to vote in favor of her dismissal. Sandra, then, uses the weekend to plea with these people that she once considered her friends, at least in the workplace. Now, she must get a majority vote or else she will be passed over. This leads to some traumatic attempts at convincing others to sacrifice what they have now been promised (their raise) in favor of giving this woman a second chance at restarting her life after it almost fell to pieces. Her life on the domestic front hasn’t eased matters either, particularly with her post-breakdown depression involving a lot of sleep and dependence on prescription pills.
The Dardenne brothers have crafted a delicate feature that truly glistens in its dialogue. Much like other foreign directors that want to shine a light on their country’s economic state and the humanity that must endure, the filmmakers have explored the nature of the workplace and the breakdown of trust when certain circumstances challenge those relationships. Particular scenes that shine include a discussion with a man coaching a soccer team as Sandra feels defeated after multiple rejections, and a conversation with a man and wife that both have different emotions toward her in two drastically different scenes. Marion Cotillard was a surprise Oscar nominee this year, her second after her win seven years ago for La Vie en Rose. She’s one of my favorite actresses working today simply because she embodies every role with a commanding humanity; here, then, the role is perfect. Two Days, One Night delivers a solemn ending, reminding the audience that the film is decidedly anti-Hollywood in its narrative and aims for a more realistic dictation of society.
Grade: ★★★★½ (out of 5)