Two Days, One Night (2014)
Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. For more information please visit www.festival-cannes.com/en or follow the Cannes Film Festival on Twitter.
Prior to this 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, this is what the history books might’ve read under Dardenne brothers: ‘The very definition of a staple of the festival, the duo have been gracing the seaside town’s scarlet carpet with clockwork reliability since winning the Palme with Rosetta in 1999. Yet perhaps more striking than the frequency of their appearances on the Croisette is the consistency with which they’ve enjoyed success with the juries over the years, bagging a second Palme with 2005’s L’Enfant as well as a Grand Prix three years ago for The Kid With The Bike. The Dardennes are essentially Cannes’ very own power-couple’. Come May 24th, we might be looking at an altogether more concise way of hyping the Belgians up in the future. Swatches of critics stormed Twitter shortly after its premiere, calling for a record-breaking third Palme d’Or. Though undoubtedly a very strong film, overwhelming critical support appears to be a matter of warm consensus rather than it being considered a bona fide masterpiece.
Oscillating menacingly between maniaco-depressive stints and a combative streak, Cotillard injects a touching fragility to her character.
Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a wife and mother of two, who, under the threat of losing her job, tries to convince her colleagues to vote for her to stay on the team. The only condition for her to be kept on board involves them financing her employment by losing their end-of-year bonus of a thousand euros. After a dispiriting initial vote is overturned due to the alleged scare tactics of manager Jean-Marc, Sandra is afforded the course of the weekend to change their minds. Thus begins her gruelling journey, travelling from door to door, embarrassed about pursuing what she feels is akin to begging. Too many social realist movies needlessly spend time introducing the unfortunate circumstances of their underprivileged protagonists, but Two Days, One Night refreshingly eschews that most didactic of expositions by opening with the dreaded phone call.
Slimming down the storyline so it essentially only covers the overcoming of an obstacle means that we’re left bereft of forceful psychology, privy only to sporadic glimpses of Sandra’s recent history of depression or, say, the suggestion of past good deed toward a colleague. Similarly, every name checked on her list, every doorbell rung is a brief window into the lives of the local working-class. As Sandra bashfully confronts her colleagues, reciting the same arguments over and over again, every response she gets betrays the otherwise unseen struggle that weigh these men and women down, the systemic pressure that all but forces them to substitute solidarity for the promise of a lightened load. The Dardennes can claim to be apolitical all they want, the specter of capitalism haunts nonetheless.
If it works on an emotional level, it’s largely thanks to a sensitive performance by Cotillard, though she doesn’t quite overcome the sense of actorly control that often plagues experienced—and to an extent theatrical—actors when cast in naturalistic narratives. Oscillating menacingly between maniaco-depressive stints and a combative streak, Cotillard injects a touching fragility to her character. It helps that she’s supported by a handful of strong individual performances that, without the benefit of the majority of the screen-time, still manage to shape meaningful (and individuated) characters. Certainly enough for the human stakes of the final showdown to overwhelm any purely ideological stance. The Dardenne brothers have spent the best part of two decades honing their craft and that experience shows in a beautifully concise, precise and poignant tale of a woman overcoming her brittleness to stand up for her right to a dignified life. I found cheer even in its most disheartening moments, as does Sandra.
The Dardenne brothers have spent the best part of two decades honing their craft and that experience shows in a beautifully concise, precise and poignant tale of a woman overcoming her brittleness to stand up for her right to a dignified life.