Two Days, One Night: Socially Relevant, Touching Working Class Tale Starring Marion Cotillard

With Two Days, One Night, the brilliant brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have made another compelling, socially relevant film about the human condition, this time around centering on a woman who has just lost her job.

Two Days, One Night world-premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Fest (in competition), where all of the Dardennes films of the past decade have played.

Working for the first time with a major star, French actress Marion Cotillard (who won the Oscar for playing Edith Piaf  in “La Vie en Rose”), they have written and helmed one of their most focused and tightest films, a 93-minute tale in which there is not one unnecessary second or a single indulgent frame that doesn’t push forward the lean, straightforward narrative.

Cotillard plays Sandra, a solar panel factory worker coping with deep personal depression and economic crisis. After a medical leave of absence, Sandra is told that her job has been eliminated.  The only way for her to maintain her position is to convince her peers to give up their annual bonus.

As the title indicates, she has only two days to accomplish that, and in order to succeed, she needs to interact with each member individually.  Thus begins a long journey in which every second counts and every vote matters, and during which she uses every means of communication.

Early on, we observe her alone in her family apartment, on the phone, attempting to persuade a co-worker to cast a ballot vote in her favor so that she can keep her job.  Telephone scenes present a major challenge for actors, and it here that Cotillard shines, conveying in the most realistic way the sense of anticipation,  the pauses, the fraught moments between the lines.

Sandra’s only hope is to persuade a majority of her 16 co-workers to reinstate the position, which means forgoing 1,000-euro bonuses. She has two days to accomplish this before a secret ballot is taken at the factory, in the industrial suburb of Seraing, Belgium, the Dardennes’ hometown.

The film follows a series of one-to-one encounters with Sandra’s fellow employees, each of whom has good reasons to refuse her request, to deny her wish.

Thierry Fremaux, director of the Cannes Film Fest, described the film  a “Belgian Western,” and he has a point.  Like the classic Western “High Noon,” in which Gary Cooper’s sheriff runs around town, desperately seeking help from his mates and citizens, Sandra is doing the same.  Frail and vulnerable, Saandra puts herself on the line, begging them to at least listen to her, and she is doing that with candid honesty, no manipulation, always trying to maintain her dignity depsite her dependency.

In the press conference in Cannes, the Dardenne brothers have acknowledged the influence of  the seminal courtroom drama, “12 Angry Men,” directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda, as an inspiration for the film.

Though Cotillard is in each and every scene, the rest of the cast is equally effective.  Fabrizio Rongione, one of Dardennes’ regular players, is cast as the patient, loving spouse, a cook who takes care of their two children, while totally supporting his wife.