Two Days, One Night (2014) / Drama
aka Deux jours, une nuit

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some mature thematic elements
Running Time: 95 min.

Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salee
Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Screenplay: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Review published February 23, 2015

A realistic, refreshingly unsentimental working-class drama with a spot-on, Oscar-nominated performance by its star, Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant, The Dark Knight Rises), makes Two Days One Night one of the more thought-provoking and emotional films of 2014. Sibling Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (The Kid with a Bike, L'Enfant) have crafted a thoughtful and insightful social piece that puts a personal face on a growing subject: whether people will sacrifice their own well-being in order to lend a hand to someone in dire need.

Cotillard plays Sandra Bya, wife and mother of two who finds herself on the chopping block for the solar-panel company she relies on to help her and her family stay afloat from day to day. The sixteen other employees of the company were put into a position of either laying off Sandra, who had been recently out for medical leave due to a nasty bout of depression that showed the company they could work just as well without her, or in getting a thousand Euro bonus.

On Friday, they chose to vote in self interest, but Sandra, who was unable to attend the vote, is given a second chance when they decide to re-vote on Monday. With only two days until the Monday morning vote, Sandra's hubby Manu (Rongione, Rosetta) encourages her to fight for her job by visiting each one of her fellow employees and imploring them to give up their sizable bonus and let her keep her job. Knowing she can't break down or show she's too weak-willed to make it, she has to suck in her gut and swallow her tendency to retract from humility by looking each one of them in the eye and ask for their help, knowing that most of them want or need the money themselves.

Riding Cotillard for most of its emotional beats, she delivers a consistently well-rounded performance that elevates the simple tale into one of intense complexity. That simple story is what you'd expect -- Sandra must visit each employee in their homes around the city and implore them to give up money for her to stay, even though the company doesn't necessarily need her. Each meeting is different because each person is unique in their own perspectives, some sympathetic, others feeling like she's out to take money from their pockets, but all have reasoned thoughts on the matter that sways Sandra in her resolve just as much as their own is swayed by her beseeching.

Cutting underneath the surface of the narrative, Two Days One Night digs into the sociopolitical climate as a whole, as those who find themselves looking at poverty would like the help of others to make ends meet, but those with money don't want to have to sacrifice their own finances in order for someone else to benefit. In the workplace, it can seem like dog-eat-dog, but it's the same out in the city, where the separation forms between those who have and those who have not, and while some are sympathetic, others willingly turn a cold shoulder to the pleas of others, and even blame those who are down and out for burdening the rest.

Not flashy, and not trying to pull on your heartstrings, the Dardennes compel nevertheless with a well-shot and produced talk-piece with strong supporting performances, and one stellar one at its center from Cotillard.  Sandra's case is stirring, and not singular, but in the end, regardless of which way the vote goes, just getting there is a victory unto itself, overcoming a disease, and an occupational system, that tells her to that the only option is retreat.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo