Two Days, One Night – Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (2014)

I have only seen a few of the Dardenne brothers’ films – I know, time for the thumbscrews – but Two Days, One Night is more uplifting and less dedicated to sober realism than past efforts. Per usual for them, the film centers on working-class people living close to the edge, but the fact that one is Marion Cotillard and the other is the most supportive husband in the world raises this to an almost Hollywood level of good feelings and redemption. Cotillard plays Sandra, who gets notice on Friday that her job is to be eliminated, voted out by her co-workers in favor of an end of year bonus for themselves; depressive and self-effacing type that she is, she has to be goaded into fighting for her job, first by a friend in the company (who convinces the boss to allow a new ballot on Monday morning) and then by her husband, who convinces her to contact her co-workers directly over the weekend and lobby for her job. The film takes place over Saturday and Sunday, as she seeks out and attempts to convince said co-workers of her value, which she herself is unconvinced of. Without her job, though, she and her husband risk slipping back into the public housing they have only recently lifted themselves out of, and she backwards into a likewise depression. In being forced to speak for herself, Sandra comes to understand something not only of her own self-worth, but of the worth of colliding with all types of people, no matter the outcome; indeed, the film is strongest as a portrait of how work fragments and alienates people from each other, but also how it can form bonds and renew possibilities, even when antagonisms are the surface result. Her visits form an overall portrait of the working life, and some of her encounters are incredibly affecting – as with the co-worker who bursts into tears, hoping for her to win the vote and keep her job even though it would be a financial “disaster” for his family, as he is the sole breadwinner. It is within the material reality of these interactions that the film excels; in the macro, a definite moral emerges – that fighting or standing up for yourself is its own reward, and leads to happiness and hope – that while doubtlessly true somehow still feels slight. It never feels pat, though, or easy, which does matter. Cotillard gives a good performance, but not an amazing one; her self-hatred and destructiveness felt contrived to me, and a few key scenes centering around those tendencies could have been usefully cut (it seems like piling on after a certain point). The film’s climax has its own climax, a choice that one can see coming from a mile off, but even here, the almost Christian morality works rather than grates, and resolves into a genuinely feel-good conclusion. As for the film’s construction, it is solid, as is all the Dardennes work, but their style has gotten to the point of practically being an anti-style – “the official international hand-held camera vérité style deployed when keeping things real.” Perhaps take a flight of fancy sometime, bros, especially given that this film hews close to the terrain of fable?

Four stars out of five

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