Directors: Jean-Paul Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione
Plot: A group of workers are given the choice between letting Sandra (Cotillard) keep her job or receiving a thousand pound bonus.
It is always a treat watching a well-established foreign actor or actress actually get to do some acting in their home language. Marion Cotillard turned out to be no different, making Two Days, One Night a movie I wouldn’t necessarily go and see, yet my current fascination with the incredible actress convincing me to give Two Days, One Night a chance. It is a breath-taking turn from Cotillard, as she plays Sandra, a woman who is returning to work after suffering depression, only to find out she is facing being laid-off. The Dardenne brothers film Cotillard very personally, so the actress has to wear her emotions on her sleeve. Sandra is both a very restrained, yet very emotional person. While her many breakdowns are carefully scheduled (quick crying outbreaks away from her children), she also wears every insecurity on her sleeve, or more aptly, in her eyes. While Cotillard plays Sandra very subtly, we always see the carefully balanced mix of terror, urgency and depression dancing behind her eyes. She is wasting away, pale-skinned, stick-thin: Marion Cotillard’s depiction of Sandra is a woman about to crash and burn at any second.
This might be a cheap movie, but it is easy to see why Cotillard took the dip in pay to tackle the role of Sandra. She is an interesting woman. The first thing that strikes you about Sandra is how dependent she is on other people and the world around her. At first, you think the dependency is just enough to get the story flowing. She needs the job to keep her family afloat and she is dependent on the other workers to throw away their bonuses to help her. However, it becomes more than that. Sandra is a woman who is always ready to throw in the towel. As soon as she realises that she needs to spend the weekend, chasing up her old friends (I use the term friend loosely!), she throws herself into bed and lets the world victimise her. Her answer to everything is to quietly suffer in the corner. She needs her husband (admittedly a slightly boring character, but we need him to get the story moving, so he becomes a necessary evil), to motivate her every step of the way. Her dependency is also cleverly referenced throughout her road trip. She needs the bus or someone to give her a lift to even get to where she is going. Every step of the way she needs to stop and ask for directions, one moment seeing a child escort her to one of the other workers. One particular moment sees Sandra choking and needing her husband to open a bottle of water for her. Sandra is a helpless character and it makes it seem like the world is against her, strengthening the core aspect of the story. Every now and again, she will summon the strength to conquer her emotions and face her co-workers, but these small victories, while massive for the character, are never enough to help her get what she wants. It is a frustrating and depressing experience and you can’t help but wish that Sandra would get what she needs.
Sadly, while the character and Cotillard’s performance are outstanding, the rest of the movie is a little… well, to be blunt about it… dull. It is an interesting enough premise. “Would you anonymously vote to get a friend fired if you could end up with a thousand pound bonus?” To spice up the question, everyone is in a similar financial ruin to Sandra, meaning that even the nice ones struggle to justify helping Sandra out (one woman needs a new patio!) However, when all is said and done, Two Days, One Night is a glorified game of ‘Would You Rather?’ The movie shows Sandra rushing all over her district, knocking on doors and asking the same question to varied responses. I get the futility that is meant to be conveyed by the repetition, but a movie-making experience it does not make. The Dardennes directional style is very minimalist as well. At first, it is impressive, the brothers holding a tracking shot, so we get every inch of Cotillard’s performance squeezed out of a moment. So much information is pulled from a single frame. However, before long the ‘less is more’ approach gets a little monotonous. The story just isn’t expansive enough to justify the relaxed style. You long for some clever little camera tricks to make simple scenes look a little more urgent and frantic. The ending actually has a surprising little twist that throws the ‘Would You Rather’ question on its head, but because the Dardennes direction is little more than standing back and letting the actors do their thing, it feels undercooked and less impressive than it actually is. This movie had the chance to be something really insightful and important, but sadly, I find it hard to recommend to anyone.
Final Verdict: Marion Cotillard’s amazing performance is the only thing worth complimenting about this film, the direction style too simple to make the limited plot count for much.