Director: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Pili Groyne, Simon Caudry, Catherine Salée, Baptiste Sornin, Olivier Gourmet
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Written and directed by two-time Palme D’Or winners the Dardenne Brothers, Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, Une Nuit, original title fans) is set in a small Belgian town and stars Marion Cotillard as Sandra, a working class mother of two, who has recently recovered from a severe bout of depression that resulted in an extended sick leave from her job at a solar panel factory. Unfortunately, in her absence, her boss Mr Dumont (Baptiste Sornin) has decided that the factory can manage without her and has asked her co-workers to choose, via a show of hands, between keeping Sandra on and receiving an annual bonus of €1,000 each, albeit with extra hours involved.
However, with Sandra’s foreman (Olivier Gourmet) judged to have unfairly influenced the vote (with 14 out of 16 opting for the bonus), Sandra successfully petitions Mr Dumont to hold a secret ballot the following Monday. With the help of her supportive husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), and egged on by her colleague Juliette (Catherine Salée), Sandra spends the weekend tracking down each of her co-workers with the aim of persuading them to change their vote.
With this deceptively simple plot set in motion, the Dardennes lace each emotionally fraught encounter (all of which begin with Sandra making the same impassioned but humiliating speech) with powerful dramatic tension, with the audience experiencing each of Sandra’s highs and lows along the way. This is given an extra level of suspense by the knowledge that Sandra’s mental equilibrium is hanging in the balance as it is, and she’s only a few setbacks away from a full-on nervous breakdown. Indeed, Sandra’s battle with depression is handled extremely effectively throughout and it’s heart-breaking to see her put through the emotional wringer with each confrontation.
The Dardennes have built a reputation on their treatment of social and economic realities within their films and the script here does an admirable job of showing us a believable cross-section of a smalltown Belgian community. Needless to say, each co-worker reacts in a different way (one bursts into guilty tears, another launches a physical attack, a third, thought a close friend, pretends to be out), with their responses subtly forcing the viewer to question their own choice in a similar situation.
Marion Cotillard is simply terrific as Sandra, struggling to hold it together for each encounter and constantly aware that her co-workers need to see that she’s emotionally capable of coming back to work. Consequently, much of the drama plays out in the slightest flicker across her face, whether it’s the hint of a smile when an encounter goes her way, or fighting back tears when it doesn’t.
Collaborating once again with regular cinematographer Alain Marcoen, the Dardennes use their signature style (handheld camera, tracking shots, tight close-ups, most scenes unfolding in single takes) to compelling effect, with Sandra’s collection of day-glo vest tops adding an unexpected note of colour throughout.
In short, the brothers have done it again. This is a powerfully emotional, superbly written and brilliantly acted drama that shows the Dardennes at the top of their game. Highly recommended.