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Two Days, One Night – Movie Review


Two days, One Night – Review by Frank L.

Written and Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

Stars: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Pili Groyne

Since the success of Rosetta in 1999, the Dardennes have been on a wave of recognised success in creating drama which is concerned with issues that concentrate on the lives of people who are the essence of the social fabric… what some may call unwisely “little people”. In Two Days, One Night, Sandra (Marion Cotillard) has endured a bout of depression but when she is sufficiently recovered to return to work she discovers that the remaining workers were able to cover for her without the need for a replacement. The management seeing an opportunity to cut costs then proposed to her colleagues that there would be a one thousand bonus for each of them if they undertook to do her work permanently. The colleagues voted in favour of the proposal with various degrees of persuasion from the management. One or two of her colleagues are however appalled by this decision and persuade the management to rerun the vote on the following Monday giving Sandra an opportunity to contact her colleagues and explain her plight. She is doubtful about this strategy and is fully conscious that one thousand euro is a substantial sum of money for each of her colleagues and understands why many of her colleagues voted as they did regardless of management “persuasion”.

The Dardennes, in the series of encounters which Sandra has with her colleagues, illustrate the variety of financial and social pressures under which they exist. They are all just scraping by. This is the central core of the piece… the stultifying repetitive drum beat of lack of cash. Sandra, who is on the cusp of mental implosion notwithstanding the support of her partner, is dependent on pills to stop her from breaking down into a tearful mess. As she grasps the dilemmas her colleagues face in being asked to give up a bonus if they support her in the vote on the following Monday, the Dardennes have created simple but credible dilemmas and illustrate the difficult issues each of her colleagues will face if they give up the bonus. She is unsettled by even asking them to do so. They too are just clinging on perilously in the financial storms to which they are all subject. To ask them to forego a one thousand euro bonus is for her almost shameful but her plight is also acute. They are all under pressure even if the result of the pressure is different for each. The management understands this.

Marion Cotillard gives a subtle performance as Sandra and even if Sandra takes as many steps back as she does forward in this tense series of interviews, she does keep going, just. She is ably supported by her partner, Fabrizio Rongione, who provides the pragmatic ballast of encouragement in her darkest moments. At all times the acting of Rongione is complementary to that of Cotillard.

They are in a struggle together as two hard working people, in dull jobs, trying to bring up a couple of kids on wages that are just adequate but no more. The loss of her wage would be a catastrophe for them. At all times, the Dardennes keep the dilemmas simple but that makes them more powerful.

The Dardennes brothers do not come up with some fairy godmother to wave her wand to solve the problems which they have highlighted. But they point out certain qualities in Sandra’s colleagues and in herself which make you realise that some people can be generous even when they have but little. It is these acts of decency and magnanimity which are performed courageously by people who have but little which gives Two Days, One night substance. The Dardennes remind us that the prize of gainful employment is everything to those who have nothing to fall back on other than their ability to work hard.

Although set in Belgium, the story is relevant to the whole of Europe as companies and workers have to grapple with ever increasing competition from the emerging markets. This movie is a serious contribution to that debate and the very difficult dilemmas which it creates.

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