One of the definite cinema highlights of this late summer is “Two Days, One Night” (“Deux Jours, Une Nuit”), written and directed by the Belgian brothers Dardenne, and which competed at Cannes earlier this year. The beauty of this film is in its simplicity, in the portrayal of employment trouble, and in the delicate but intense performance of its main actress Marion Cotillard. In interviews, the directors and the actress explain how Cotillard needed to transform from glamorous star into a small-town Belgian mother during rehearsals and “enter the Dardenne world”. The work they did together is remarkable, as is that of the entire cast.
The story tells of Sandra who works in a Belgian factory but who may be about to lose her job if her co-workers decide they prefer a bonus to her working in their team. What touches the audience is that she seems to have just recovered from a depression and that her family is relying on her salary, in addition to her husband’s (discrete but convincing supporting role by Fabrizia Rongione), to support her family and house. As she visits her co-workers one by one over the course of a week-end to ask them to vote for her to stay (a task which she compares to begging), she drifts between hope and despair at the idea of Monday morning’s outcome. Her encounters, which often start with the same dialogue, are shown in different lovely ways, introducing fear, shame, anger, even violence. The most memorable one to me involved spiritual belief.
This is the first Dardenne film I’ve seen, but I do hear that the brothers are known for their social cinema. In this film’s case, it is eye opening and a tad unnerving to observe such intimate and mundane scenes in such distressing times for the characters, and not only the main ones. They could be anyone around us, couldn’t they? Our neighbour may also be swallowing leftover Xanax pills, or counting on a bonus to cover their house’s expenses. However, how can we care for them if we have our own worries and are surviving in our own ways?
Cotillard shows once again that she can transform into any character. I’ve always been convinced that she is best in contemporary down to earth female roles (“Jeux d’Enfants”, “Taxi”, even “La Vie en Rose”, “Big Fish”) instead of sophisticated millionaire scientists (“The Dark Knight Rises” – terrible choice, sorry). Here, she transforms physically and becomes more unknown. This helps her to truly shine.