Dramatic social realism from Belgium’s Dardennes brothers – Marion Cotillard stars as a factory worker who has just two days to persuade her colleagues to forgo their bonuses so that she can keep her job.
Weekend by Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Writers and directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes are known for their naturalistic and morally rigorous, life-affirming films, such as Rosetta and L’Enfant. Two Days, One Night, highly praised at the Cannes Film Festival, is a beautifully acted, compelling parable about the viciousness of capitalism, the invidious decisions it forces on ordinary people and the self-interest it engenders which also manages to celebrate human decency and compassion.
Marion Cotillard (award-winning star of Piaf and Rust And Bone) excels as working-class wife and mother Sandra, a production worker off sick with depression from a factory that makes solar panels in an industrial suburb in Belgium. On the Friday afternoon before she is due to return to work on Monday, she receives a phone call from work telling her she has lost her job because her sixteen colleagues have chosen to take a €1,000 bonus each instead of having her back. Her friend Juliette (Catherine Salée, Blue Is The Warmest Colour) manages to persuade the boss to delay the decision until they can vote formally on this through the union (though there is no such thing as worker solidarity) on Monday morning, giving Sandra the weekend to try and make her colleagues change their minds.
Skinny, dressed in jeans and vest, make-up-less with uncombed hair in a scrunchie, emotionally fragile, financially vulnerable, Sandra faces not just the loss of identity and self-esteem that comes with unemployment, but also being unable to pay the mortgage, facing a potential return to the poverty she and her family were just emerging from. Her supportive husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione, a regular of the Dardennes brothers’ films), is a low-paid kitchen worker so they need her wages. He encourages her to put up a good fight to save her job by visiting the colleagues who voted against her to try and persuade them to give up their bonus and vote in her favour.
With Juliette’s help, she tracks down their home addresses and sets off on a series of confrontations. With long, hand-held tracking shots we follow her and her husband through various working-class housing estates as, almost numb with depression and feeling like a beggar, she nervously rings doorbell after doorbell in a rhythm of Groundhog Day repetition, intruding into the weekends and private lives of people she knows only through work. All, she discovers, have their own pressures and all need the money. One is so hard up he has a second job; another’s son is so hostile that he gets violent; one wants the money to build a patio; another is so guilty that he initially voted against her that he bursts into tears; and some won’t even talk to her. Some flatly refuse to help, some agree. Every nuance of her emotions flickers across Cotillard’s expressive face at the varying responses to her pleas, as her depression ebbs and flows. The strain tells and she takes an overdose of her medication.
That’s the turning point. Anne (Christelle Cornil), a colleague she visited early on whose bullying husband wouldn’t allow her to help, comes to tell Sandra she has finally left him, and Sandra is saved. Like Sandra, she has found an inner strength she didn’t know she had, and when Sandra recovers, there is a joyous scene where momentarily the gut-wrenching tension is lifted and newly liberated Anne is with Sandra and Manu in their car, all singing their hearts out to Van Morrison’s Gloria on the radio.
A race against time, the weekend is frantic, eventful and suspenseful. By Monday, Sandra has managed to change some minds, but the vote is evenly split. As she accepts defeat and empties her locker, the boss tells her she can keep her job after all – instead, he says he won’t renew the contract of one of her colleagues who voted for her. But now she has the confidence to make her own independent and fundamentally moral decision.
Two Days, One Night is released on 22nd August 2014 in the UK