Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongioni, Catherine Salee
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
The Dardenne Brothers are the Belgian equivalent of Ken Loach – masters of gritty social drama infused with a warm humanity. Here they team up with the ultra glamorous Marion Cotillard – an unlikely pairing, you might think, but the result if a very fine and moving film.
Cotillard plays factory worker Sandra. Married with kids and a mortgage, she’s been off sick suffering from depression, and just as she’s ready to go back she gets some crushing news. Given a choice between keeping her on or having a 1000 Euro bonus instead, her co-workers have voted overwhelmingly for the bonus. It’s a decision that confirms all her worst fears about her own inadequacy. “I don’t exist! I’m nothing! Nothing at all!”
Her instinct is to curl up and die, but her friend Juliette (Catherine Salee) and her ever-patient husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongioni) urge her to fight. Under pressure, the factory boss agrees to a new ballot on Monday, and Sandra’s got the weekend to go around seeking out her colleagues individually at home, pleading with them to change their minds.
It’s a tough sell for anyone, but agony for the timid and tongue-tied Sandra. Some of her colleagues avoid her, one bluntly tells her she’s not needed, one reacts violently, and most have hard-luck stories of their own and are struggling to make ends meet. But her persistence pays unexpected dividends – one young man amazes her by bursting into tears of remorse, and she receives some cheering promises of help.
The weekend turns into a quest for the central character’s own elusive sense of worth. Cotillard’s Sandra is a hunched, doleful figure – willowy, bedraggled, looking like she could be knocked down with a feather. You sense her instinct to flinch from life, and you feel a swell of pride every time she squares her chin, digs deep and cracks on with her desperate mission. The Dardenne Brothers’ approach is quietly unfussy, endlessly patient and scrupulously fair. Every scene in the movie is shot in one take, in real time, and this allows what happens in front of the camera to find its own rhythm and reality. It’s an approach that’s just as freeing for the viewer as it is for the actors – you’re gratefully aware of the directors hanging back and letting you make up your own mind about what you’re seeing.
Two Days, One Night is a movie about standing up for yourself, and it’s also a well-observed portrait of what it’s like to live with depression and low self-esteem, a topic that’s rarely dealt with in cinema but that touches everybody – you probably know a Sandra, or understand exactly how she feels on certain days of the week. And without resorting to sentiment or offering pat solutions, the film somehow seems to suggest that no matter how harsh things get, the world will always be redeemed by simple acts of human kindness. Intimate, dignified, it’s a film about the ordinary, but very much out of the ordinary.
The disc comes with a 12-minute interview with the directors. They talk about the story’s origins in several news stories during the credit crunch, and discuss their unusual working methods. For instance, they insisted that Cotillard was treated exactly the same as the rest of the cast and crew, sharing cars and catering and with no pandering to her star status. There are also two interviews with Marion Cotillard, both in English and amounting to 10 minutes altogether. In the first, she explains how they had a month of rehearsals and went to the key locations beforehand, and in the second she reveals that she actually sat down and wrote a number of scenes exploring her character’s depression and its effects on her husband and children. We also learn that she’s doing a Belgian accent in the movie – not something that British viewers are likely to pick up on otherwise.