Two Days, One Night

Pasatiempo - - FRONT PAGE - — Jen­nifer Levin

Two Days, One Night , drama, PG-13, French and Ara­bic with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3.5 chiles

The plot of Two Days, One Night is rem­i­nis­cent of an anx­i­ety-based night­mare: Your co-work­ers are asked to choose be­tween get­ting a bonus and lay­ing you off, and they go for the money. But you are given the week­end to beg each one to come back on Mon­day and vote again, in your fa­vor, if you can find them. In this well-paced, un­der­stated film by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dar­denne, this is the sit­u­a­tion for San­dra (Mar­ion Cotil­lard), a young mother who has been on med­i­cal leave for de­pres­sion but is ready to re­turn to work. The pow­ers that be at the so­lar-panel man­u­fac­tur­ing plant have re­al­ized the job can be done by one less em­ployee, and they’ve con­structed this al­most Machi­avel­lian plan to foist com­plic­ity for San­dra’s dis­missal onto her peers. The pay bonus they would be turn­ing down is sig­nif­i­cant: We learn that it can cover an en­tire year’s worth of util­ity bills.

Alone, as well as with the help of her hus­band, Manu (Fabrizio Ron­gione), San­dra tra­verses a sub­ur­ban Bel­gium land­scape to visit 13 peo­ple in two days, hop­ing to win at least half of them to her side. In each new lo­cale, we get a glimpse into the lives of the work­ing class, some of whom are strug­gling more than oth­ers. Many of them, in­clud­ing San­dra, need the job to stay off public as­sis­tance, and they have been told, in­cor­rectly, that if San­dra doesn’t get fired, one of them will — a fal­lacy that, San­dra main­tains, skewed the re­sults of the first vote.

Like many French-lan­guage dra­mas, Two Days, One Night has no sound­track. In a movie about the plight of the work­ing class, it would be easy to ad­vance the story with inspiring back­ground mu­sic, thereby dic­tat­ing how the au­di­ence should re­act emo­tion­ally to each of San­dra’s in­ter­ac­tions. The movie is free of that sort of ma­nip­u­la­tion, and although there are a cou­ple of sig­nif­i­cant twists, the plot is sim­ple. The ac­tion and in­ten­sity come from the per­for­mances. Cotil­lard, who has been nom­i­nated for an Academy Award for best actress in a lead­ing role, plays San­dra with­out melo­drama or hys­te­ria — plain-faced and un­smil­ing, but not dour. She ob­vi­ously loves her hus­band and chil­dren and wants to be sta­ble and happy, but bad news can send her reel­ing to the ground, gasp­ing for breath. Still, she’s bet­ter than she was, and she wants to work. Some of her co-work­ers are kind, even as they tell her they can­not vote for her to stay, and some lash out at her for ask­ing them to forgo the bonus. “I didn’t put you in this po­si­tion,” she tells them. San­dra doesn’t be­grudge them their fi­nan­cial need. She is hum­ble and re­spect­ful in her ap­peals, ask­ing them to con­sider only what is fair.

I scream, you scream: Fabrizio Ron­gione and Mar­ion Cotil­lard

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