Film is often celebrated for the sense of escapism it provides, the enclosed darkened rooms of the cinema proving a welcomed distraction from the outside world. In comparison to this theory, the Belgian directing brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are known for their naturalistic style, presenting real life issues on the cinematic stage. Their latest effort, ‘Two Days, One Night’ highlights the problems within the social economic system not only in the small French town in which it is set, but globally. Marion Cotillard stars as the depression stricken mother Sandra who returns to work after a leave of absence at a solar panel plant to find that her colleagues have chosen to accept a bonus instead of her keeping her minimum wage job. She has the weekend, as the title suggests, to overturn the vote, approaching them one by one in a desperate plea to save her livelihood.
The pace of the narrative is plodding as Sandra travels by bus to most of her workmates to explain her situation, hoping to appeal to their better, kinder natures. Coming from a documentary-making background, the Dardenne brothers achieve the feat of showing these emotive visits in such a realistic manner with no schmaltz or sentimentality in sight. The camera work is basic but at times breathtaking, and before long it’s hard not to get behind the protagonist and hope that her co-workers will see her point of view and decide to turn away their €1,000 payout so that Sandra can keep an income to support her husband and child. The stripped back aim of the project can somewhat hamper the enjoyment of it as the plot gets repetitive, Sandra repeating her tale of woe nearly word for word each time, but then again unemployment isn’t exactly an enjoyable prospect.
Having long since made the jump from her Parisian roots to acting in the English language, working in Hollywood with some of the biggest names in the industry, it is satisfying to watch Marion Cotillard put in an arguably career-best performance in her mother-tongue language. Understatedly brilliant, she never overdoes it demonstrating the heartache her character is suffering and her acting is subtly powerful when Sandra reaches moments of dire straits. In my initial reactions to watching the film, I found that not opting for dramatic highly strung scenes was strange but her quiet depiction of mental health will creep up on you days, or weeks afterwards.
A restrained social commentary on not only depression but the recession, the Dardenne brothers offer up a movie which isn’t easy to love, but one that you can help stepping back and taking note of. It’s an incredibly relevant piece of film-making and bruising to the modern society we find ourselves in, putting the two-faced culture of working environments on the big screen. Cotillard is excellent in her sincere surroundings, away from the glitz and glamour of blockbuster cinema but in the epicentre of real life.
See the trailer: