Film Review: Two Days, One Night (★★★)

twodaysonenightNEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: There is a clear and vibrant simplicity to The Dardenne Brothers’ newest and affecting effort Two Days, One Night starring the hauntingly rich and powerful Marion Cotillard.  Intimate and honest, the selection for Belgium for the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony makes a compelling case in showcasing a tragic story of family, despair, and sacrifice.

Starting this off with a cinematic (likely horrible) confession, I’ve never seen a Dardenne Brothers film in its entirety.  Growing up in an American household, and only learning of them over the past few years, the two acclaimed filmmakers remained on my bucket list for a cinematic weekend but never fully got around to it.  Does that make me less qualified to review the new film distributed by Sundance Selects?  I’d like to think not.  Every new generation of film critics, both new and beyond, will learn the ways of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and the Dardenne Brothers in some new capacity.

The film tells the story of Sandra, a young mother who learns that her co-workers have opted for a large cash bonus, and as a result, will leave her without a job.  She spends the next two days and one night, visiting all sixteen co-workers to convince them to give up their money in order for her to keep her job and help her support her family.

From the premise alone, you can only assume that you’re going to be pulled through the ringer.  What the writer/directors exercise brilliantly is the feeling of desperation.  A supportive husband Manu, played magnificently by Fabrizio Rongione, and a friend Juliette (Catherine Salée) offer balance to a dark tale but you can’t help but just feel for our lovely Sandra.  It’s a social and economical look at the working class.  What it can make you do and how you can lose your humanity as a result.

The pinnacle and most profound element of the picture is the towering achievement of Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard.  She observes Sandra in her fragile state and avoids any typical tropes and clichés.  Cotillard searches for Sandra’s purpose, almost as convincingly as Sandra searches for her own.  She yearns for more, but most of all, she seeks simple clarity.  She’s drowning in her own sadness, something that some of us might know too well.  She’s dying for a breath of air.  This is just another prime example of Cotillard’s stunning abilities to transform herself in any role.  Rust & Bone and La Vie en Rose are just the tip of the iceberg, and this may not even be the full extent of her talents.  I think we’re looking at a legendary actress emerging before our eyes.  There’s a role coming, if you haven’t experienced it already, that is going to knock all of us on our asses.  This could be it for many.

Cotillard Two Days One NightThe major flaw I found is in the way the brothers decide to tell the story.  At 95 minutes, the film tends to move at a snail’s pace from time to time.  As soon as the film reveals its premise, I wondered how we were going through sixteen individuals without feeling repetitive.  While some of them definitely make their marks (a scene involving Timur Magomedgadzhiev rings profoundly genuine), others feel like victims of circumstance and even a little bland.  By the movie’s end, I felt like I had sat for over two hours.

Two Days, One Night is a contender for Best Foreign Language Film and a dark horse for Oscar-winner Cotillard to score a nomination.  If you are familiar with the Dardenne Brothers previous efforts, this film should feel just as satisfying.  If anything, this is a kind and seamless introduction to the directors’ past efforts.

Two Days, One Night is playing at the New York Film Festival.  It opens in theaters in limited release on December 24, 2014.