Release Date: 22nd of August
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Pili Groyne, Simon Caudry, Catherine Salée
On sick leave following a nervous breakdown, Sandra Bya lies sleeping on her sofa. Awoken by a ringing phone, she is told that her boss has forced her work colleagues to choose between receiving their annual bonus or making Sandra redundant. Determined to fight for her job, Sandra uses the weekend before the fateful ballot to knock on the doors of her workmates and urge them to forsake their bonus and keep her in a job. All this despite the fact that she is clearly still quite vulnerable, and most likely not best suited to return to work.
Throughout their filmmaking career Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have consistently turned out sensitive portrayals of working-class Belgians in a spare and unfussy style, firmly rooted in the realist tradition. With lengthy, emotionally raw takes that slowly tease out poignant truths, they have always been far more interested in characters and their reactions in times of stress than issues of plot. The action in Two Days, One Night is repetitive; Sandra goes from door to door and pleads her case to her colleagues; each new interaction showing a new side to her personality, situation and those who control her fate. Reactions range from pity, to guilt, and even violent rage. What’s of interest to the Dardennes is the attitude the characters adopt when weighing up their own financial stability against that of their peer as they apologise, threaten or ignore Sandra and her request.
The central dilemma forces audiences to consider how they might react in such a situation. There are no right answers, only difficult questions. Each reaction from Sandra’s colleagues seem plausible; these are people who are struggling being asked to sacrifice financial stability to help their workmate. However Two Days, One Night is not just a film about economic pressure and the ways they manifest themselves, but is also a film about the effects of depression and the strains it puts on its sufferers, as well as their friends and their family. Sandra’s struggles with anxiety and self-doubt – helped on by her loving husband Manu and a whole load of Xanax – are captured in long, unflinching takes that allow for a character that is troubled without seeming histrionic.
However regardless of director(s), an intimate character study such as Two Days, One Night requires a strong central performance. In their first dalliance with a major global film star the Dardennes have struck gold in Marion Cotillard. Much of the film rests on the delicate, stooped shoulders of Cotillard and her portrayal of a frail woman teetering on the edge of despair, trying to salvage her life in the face of severe depression is both heartbreaking and inspirational. Putting herself in the awkward and humiliating position of knocking on doors and asking for help lets the nobility of Sandra shine through; she recognises the magnitude of what she is asking and understands why they may not vote in her favour. It may all sound a bit bleak, but seeing Sandra fight to overcome her situation is strangely life-affirming.
Yet another deeply moving and humane work from the Dardenne brothers, Two Days, One Night is the kind of film that makes you want to knock and people’s doors and ask them to go and see it.