'Two Days, One Night'
The dependably depressing Dardenne Brothers have returned with another gut-wrenching, yet deeply moving slice of social realism carried off with such elegant simplicity that it’s easy to take them for granted.
The concept of ‘Two Days, One Night’ is very straightforward, while the execution feels almost effortless. Marion Cotillard plays a blue collar worker who just took sick leave for depression and returns to find out that her boss offered the entire 17 person workforce 1,000€ each if they vote to let Cotillard go and eliminate her position. She has one weekend to convince half of the employees otherwise before Monday. The entire film follows her meeting and pleading with her workmates one-by-one. It sounds like a repetitive trifle, but in the hands of Jean and Luc Dardenne, it’s a gripping and emotionally crippling drama.
The co-writers/directors gave themselves the challenge of essentially writing the same scene with 16 variations. They delivered a script that feels full, rich and unpredictable. The story never extends to melodrama. It’s always very small and real, but the stakes feel as high as any film about potential world domination.
Much of the success of the project comes down to an extraordinary central performance from Cotillard, who opens the film in a state of devastated depression and finds remarkable pain in each and every encounter. The role would be all too easy to overplay given that it rides the edge of mental collapse throughout, but Cotillard joins the Dardennes at their own game. She never showboats or extends beyond their fragile reality. It’s a beautiful bit of acting in a beautiful little movie. The Dardennes have built a career out of finding cinema in the small stuff we all sweat, and ‘Two Days, One Night’ proves that they remain the masters of the little corner of cinema that they’ve carved out for themselves.