Sometimes an initially simple seeming story can be just chock full of deeper meaning. That sort of quiet power is seen (as well as felt) all throughout Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne‘s latest film Two Days, One Night. When I first saw the movie at the New York Film Festival a few months ago, I originally mainly admired the lead performance by Marion Cotillard and the focused nature of the story. Actually, I even went so far as to tell a colleague of mine that it felt almost like an episode of The West Wing. Not in terms of the dialogue, but in terms of how the plot requires a certain number of votes to be secured within a contained time period. I’m probably the only person ever to compare the Dardenne Brothers to Aaron Sorkin, but it’s a loose comparison and just how it processed within my brain. Since then, I’ve considered the other elements of the film more fully and appreciate it even more. Now, there’s a few flaws here and there, particularly in terms of one third act plot point, but aside from that, Two Days, One Night is a very strong drama with plenty of social commentary to be shared. It won’t wind up on my year end Top Ten list, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a very strong movie, since it is.
The plot surrounds the quest by Sandra (Cotillard) to save her job. A young Belgian mother of two, she finds out that she’s been let go when her coworkers vote to dismiss her in order to receive a a bonus. Her boss (Baptiste Sornin) allows her the weekend to try and change the minds of her colleagues, literally asking them to give up money in their pockets so she can keep her place at the company. He knows it’s essentially hopeless, as of the 16 employees, only one other besides Sandra voted in her favor. Supported by her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) and coworker friend Juliette (Catherine Salee), who refuse to let her crawl into bed and except failure, she sets out to confront the other men and women at the factor one by one. That begins the ticking clock in her head, as she literally has only the time indicated in the title to change both hearts and minds. Where it goes, I won’t say, but as you’d expect, the brothers Dardenne let things play out as realistically as possible.
Even though I slightly preferred her work earlier this year in The Immigrant, Marion Cotillard is still excellent here. Between those two films, it’s definitely been one of her best years in some time as an actress. Cotillard essays a flawed character with stunning realism, both showing the headstrong nature of Sandra as well as the deep depression that any unemployed adult can easily feel. It’s both simple and yet deeply complex. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to nominate her for Best Actress, but I wouldn’t complain one bit if she makes the final five. Her quiet chemistry with Fabrizio Rongione is very strong, as he has to play a far more singleminded character. He loves his wife and wants to see her succeed, so he’ll stop at nothing to make sure that happens. Catherine Salee has far less to do than Cotillard or Rongione, but she’s still pretty solid, no doubt about that, with the same being said for Baptiste Sornin. Also in the cast are folks like Simon Caudry, Christelle Cornil, Olivier Gourmet, Pili Groyne, and Timur Magomedgadzhiev, among others. Still, as well as Rongione fares, this is very much Cotillard’s show. Fans of her work previously will not be disappointed one bit.
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are master filmmakers, that’s something hardly in question. As such, it’s hard to get picky with their work, though I do have one thing that’s bugged me about their script. The direction is excellent, particularly the pacing, but the screenplay has Sandra make a choice (one I won’t spoil here) that I just didn’t believe one bit. It even feels like the brothers agree with me, as it’s discarded very quickly, far quicker than it should have been too. It’s a small misstep, but it’s somewhat glaring in my eyes. Two Days, One Night doesn’t have many problems, but that’s one of them for sure.
Overall, I really think Two Days, One Night is top notch work from a pair of filmmakers who consistently manage to impress. Particularly for Cotillard, this is one of the must see foreign films of 2014, regardless of it not making the short list for Best Foreign Language Feature. It’s a powerful drama with plenty to say about human nature and society. Especially considering how well it has managed to do on the precursor circuit, I can’t imagine many of you not being interested in Two Days, One Night. Make time for this one folks, trust me there.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!