Two Days, One Night
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