TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (Deux jours, une nuit). Starring: Marion Cotillard, and Fabrizio Rongione. Directed by Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. Rated M (Mature themes). 91 min.
This sub-titled Belgian drama won the Sydney Film Prize at the 2014 Sydney Film Festival, was recipient of the 2014 Grand Prix awarded by the International Cinephile Society, and is Belgium's submission for the Foreign Language Film Category at the 2015 Academy Awards.
A depressed industrial worker called Sandra (Marion Cotillard) works in a solar-panel factory in the Belgium town of Seraing. Taking time off on medical leave to recover from a nervous breakdown, her colleagues at work are offered a thousand euros if they extend their work load to cover Sandra's shift. Their acceptance of the extra money makes Sandra redundant.
In order to keep her job, Sandra has to convince her fellow-workers over the course of a single weekend (2 days, one night) that they should reject the extra money. She begins the fight to keep her job on Friday evening, and management has promised to meet again on Monday morning. Fourteen of the sixteen workers accepted management's original offer, but a second vote by secret ballot could have a different outcome. Management has agreed to a second vote because of the way it tried to influence the outcome of the first one.
Marion Cotillard has to be one of the finest actresses on the cinema screen today. She conveys profound emotion by the slightest nonverbal gesture. As clinical depression threatens to engulf her, she holds back her distress to fight valiantly for her rights. She delivers an extraordinary performance that probes deep into the psychology of her personality while conveying the full range of issues that the industrial situation evokes in her. She conveys self-doubt, fractured affection, deep depression, and resilience.
The compelling nature of Cotillard's performance allows the film to expose the viewer to the moral challenges surrounding the security of employment among the lower class. Against the contemporary background of the European economic crisis, the movie makes a significant social comment by showing how worker choice is being sacrificed to management greed.
The film's direction by the Dardenne brothers (Luc and Jean-Pierre) is humane and emotionally convincing. With a steady hand, they move the viewer thoughtfully and slowly through events to develop a conclusion to the movie that is honest and real. Right to the end, the movie manages to face squarely the complexity of human experience. As one worker says, "it will be a disaster for me if the majority votes for you, but I hope for your sake that they do". Another worker is shamed by his first decision. While yet another "has to salvage floor tiles to exist" and desperately wants the extra money.
The film is a superb social drama about work, family relationships, social need, and the value of money. Sandra's loving and devoted husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) has only just come out of public housing and off welfare payment, and he has to cope with his wife's depression while trying at the same time to support her for what he knows she believes in, and the money he knows his family needs.
Throughout the movie, the film projects a strong belief in the goodness of people while accepting the social-justice reality of their struggles. The film is not judgmental about the plight of the workers, but chooses to present naturally and convincingly the reasons why some can't vote for Sandra, while others are willing to change their minds. The film builds up solid tension until management meets, and the tension is captured well by all of the actors, the quality of the direction, and the tracking cinema-photography which uses long camera shots to convey much of what is happening.
This is a quietly absorbing film that tackles social issues in a humane and understanding way, and it is a particularly fine addition to Cotillard's excellent reputation. The compelling drama documents movingly the triumph of the human spirit. It tells a simple story with a strong moral message, that is directed and acted with magnificent depth.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released November 6th., 2014