26 August 2014


Summer has never been a season to leave you short changed if you like films with a "two" in the title. 22 Jump Street, How To Train Your Dragon 2 and The Inbetweeners 2 have all been and gone in the last few months, but it's time for a change of pace. Two Days, One Night is the latest film from Palme d'Or-winning filmmakers, the Dardenne brothers, and it's a bit marvellous.

Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a working mother who has recently taken leave from her job due to depression. She's ready to return to work when she hears that her colleagues have voted for her to be let go so that each of them can have their annual bonus. In the face of an immediate relapse, Sandra is spurred by her loving husband to spend the weekend appealing to her colleagues' better nature ahead of a second vote on Monday morning, in the hope that enough of them will renounce their bonuses and let her keep her job.

After a summer of films in which the whole world is at stake, we're coming around to that time of year for films where someone's whole world is at stake instead, with nary a laser gun or explosion in sight. It's already tough to imagine how any of them will outclass this understated and engrossing drama. The plot as described above really is the whole extent of the story, but as it turns out, Sandra's odyssey is really all we need to get us on the edge of our seats.

My familiarity with the Dardennes' oeuvre only extends as far as 2011's The Kid with a Bike, another social-realist film that nevertheless had a lighter tone than this one. The only lightness here is in its touch. There's no room for showboating in terms of character or acting and yet it will definitely be a drastic oversight if Marion Cotillard doesn't at least get her second Best Actress nomination at this year's Oscars. Her portrayal of depression seems spot-on, so affected by the weight of everything bearing down on her that every bit of effort looks and feels Herculean- when I said this one had no explosions, that applies to obvious and histrionic Oscar-baiting moments too.

By necessity, the film is slightly repetitive. With each co-worker that Sandra tracks down, she explains that she's not upset with them about the vote, that there'll be another vote on Monday morning and that she hopes she can persuade them to keep her on this time. It never grows stale because no two co-workers ever react the same way. Some are cowed by having to face her, others are violently upset that she has the audacity to ask them to put their necks out for her, and many of them need their bonuses in order to get by. Sandra has to persuade nine people to vote in her favour, but every one of them presents new challenges to a woman who is already exhausted by the mere act of getting out of bed and facing them.

Fabrizio Rongione lends admirable support as Manu, Sandra's husband and rock throughout the weekend. The Dardennes linger on our protagonist whenever she's left alone for a moment or two, leaving the deep, fearful sadness of Cotillard's expression to fill and even extend the time Sandra spends in that isolation, but it's always Manu, and Rongione's endlessly supportive portrayal, that keeps his wife going on her mission. The whole film elicits huge sympathy for its characters and makes a seemingly small story into something unexpectedly riveting.

Two Days, One Night is that rare film that can be described as "a testament to the strength of the human spirit" without even a little bit of irony. Anchored by a formidable and heart-wrenching performance by Marion Cotillard as Sandra, and lifted upwards by the naturalistic unpredictability of the various supporting characters, the film finds an utterly engrossing balance, with effects that are difficult to shake off either during the running time or after the credits have rolled. This is a hugely compassionate film that reminds us how, in true cinema, no story or stakes are truly small.

Two Days, One Night is now showing at selected cinemas nationwide and on video on-demand services. It will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on October 20th.
If you've seen Two Days, One Night, why not leave a comment below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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