From the filmmaking duo Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, ‘Two Days One Night’ is a portrait of a human face unstrung by corporate covetousness. Most importantly, it gets the wish to believe in people. Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, an employee at a small solar-panel factory just coming out of depression who after a medical leave of absence, is told that her job has been eliminated. The film’s title refers to the amount of time she spends campaigning before a secret ballot is taken at the factory; during this time, she must persuade the majority of her 16 coworkers to reverse a vote they took, at the owner’s importunity, to terminate her employment or forego their 1000-euro bonus (an equivalent of CDN $1,426). Admittedly, I can’t attest to how accurate a portrait this is of the European workplace; for this Western audience member, it was a tad puzzling.
The film follows a succession of one-to-one encounters with Sandra’s fellow employees – each of them has solid reasons for not wanting to give up the bonus that was promised to them. It takes place in Seraing, Belgium, which is where the Dardenne brothers are from. The filmmakers imbue the proceedings with a sense of place, and they are able to take what could be a dry plot in the hands of a lesser filmmaker and transfigure it into something thrilling and universal.
The Motion Picture Academy did not overlook Marion Cotillard’s performance (though it should be noted that this film was deserving of a Best Foreign Language nomination and didn’t get one). Effortlessly conveying fragility with her slumped shoulders, weary eyes, pauses, and the charged moments between her lines, this international star’s performance extends beyond mere naturalism and into something transcendent. We believe every inch of her performance. But, the actors playing her coworkers are outstanding as well. As is Dardennes brothers’ regular, Fabrizio Rongione, as the patient, and supportive husband in a stressed marriage who pushes Sandra to fight along with their two children.
I viewed Sandra’s quandary as emblematic of the state of the European Union in its need to persuade nations with conglomerated obligations to support each other. The Dardennes have arrived at a place of warmth and enlightenment, a destination I couldn’t have possibly anticipated from their earlier works. But, I am more than delighted they found their way. QED.