Thursday 17 November 2016

Movie Review: Two Days, One Night (2014)

A drama about economic survival, Two Days, One Night explores the thin personal and civil strands that weave a society. A superlative Marion Cotillard performance helps to create gripping viewing.

It's Friday in a small suburban Belgian town, and factory worker Sandra (Cotillard) receives bad news: her sixteen crew mates at a cash-strapped solar panel manufacturing plant have voted that she lose her job so that they can each keep a €1,000 bonus. Sandra, a married mother of two, was vulnerable because she was off work suffering from depression, and her absence proved to her boss Dumont that the work could be done with one less person. Sandra's friend Juliette helps convince Dumont to hold another, this time secret, vote on Monday morning.

Prodded by her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), the reluctant Sandra sets out to talk to all 16 of her work colleagues over the weekend, pleading with them to consider voting to save her job. The response will be varied, sometimes unexpected, and Sandra will discover plenty about herself and her community.

Directed by the Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Two Days, One Night is an engrossing character study that expands outwards from Sandra and into her surrounding ecosystem. With a strong focus on the dynamics of a working class neighbourhood, the film asks questions about the individual and the collective, personal needs versus social good, and the surprising limits and opportunities that reside within relationships, both personal and professional.

The Dardennes establish the premise quickly, and then settle down into a pattern of Sandra approaching each co-worker in turn, pleading for their vote, and then an interlude where the most recent interaction either raises her spirits or crushes her psyche. While some repetitiveness creeps in, the film keeps each encounter fresh, Sandra never knowing what response she is going to get, her already emotionally fragile, pill-popping state ready to either shatter or regroup according to the decisions of near-strangers.

About two thirds of the way through, Sandra's quest takes on an added dimension. There is a touching scene in the car with Manu where she smiles for the first time, discovering more about herself than she wanted to know. Then a co-worker springs a surprise and takes an emotional and financial risk of her own: a new, unexpected bond of friendship is forged. Sandra's appeal for collegial sympathy will have mixed and unintended consequences, none more important than her understanding of what emotional fulfillment looks like.

Marion Cotillard own the entire film, the cameras fully fixated on her in each scene, her acting finding a magical sweet spot where extreme anxiety and delicate determination join hands, both looking to score a win over the other.

Two Days, One Night is a stark look at the simple economics of life: a bonus or a colleague, the relative value varies according to each individual, but all the ripples are nevertheless felt throughout the same small pool.

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