Despite being another relatively realistic movie from the Dardenne brothers — Luc and Jean-Pierre — there’s a certain amount of suspension of disbelief that needs to take place in order to enjoy Two Days, One Night. It’s not a lot, mind, but there is some, because the film decides to offer up a situation whose likelihood of occurring falls somewhere between being struck by lightning and being struck by a meteor. No, a company probably never would let this happen, but doesn’t it make for compelling cinema?
Set over the course of, yes, two days and one night, our film follows Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a woman who has recently been sick with depression. She is just about ready to return to work, but receives a phone call telling her that there was a vote from her 16 co-workers which had them determine if they would get their year-end bonus, or if she could return. Yes, her job was put up against their bonuses, and given that this is a working-class population, many of whom rely on the bonus in order to get by, it really isn’t any question what got picked. The vote was 14 to 2.
However, there’s word that there may have been some intimidation from the floor manager, so a re-vote on the following Monday is going to happen. Sandra now has the entire weekend to go see each person individually and plead her case. That’s more or less the entire film. Sandra makes the same plea to over a dozen people, getting different answers each time. You know it’s going to miraculously come down to a single vote; the only question is which way that vote will go.
If you’re already guessing that this whole “voting” thing might in some way, shape, or form function as an allegory to politics, well, you aren’t far off. One could definitely see Two Days, One Night‘s campaigning efforts as commentary on the political system. It also works to shed light on the working class of Belgium, personal morals, and how companies treat people suffering from mental illness. All of that packed into 90 minutes with a very human story? Call that a win.
It’s all anchored by Marion Cotillard, who reminds us all that she can be a great actor when given the right material — and perhaps when she gets to speak her native language. She’s so believable here that you forget she’s a movie star and instead genuinely think she’s going to lose her job if she can’t convince a majority to let her keep it by sacrificing a €1,000 bonus. Add that with an ever-present battle with depression, and you’ve got yourself a terrific performance.
There are people out there — perhaps those who run companies or are in high-ranking positions — who know that this sort of thing has only a very remote chance of happening, and because of that knowledge, the film’s realism is lost and it will feel silly and unbelievable. It’s a shame that this may happen, because it’s a fun and surprisingly suspenseful movie, but you have to be able to buy in in order to care about Sandra’s quest. If you can’t do that, you may as well skip Two Days, One Night, as you won’t enjoy it anyway.
What I appreciate most about this movie, perhaps, is its ending, which is both tense and logical, and provided the filmmakers with the chance to chicken out. But that isn’t the path that was taken. It’s hard to say why without spoiling it, but suffice to say that an easy solution was offered and not taken, and yet the film still manages to be relatively heartwarming in spite of it. We learn that, just maybe, it wasn’t about the destination, but the journey and the growth that occurred on the journey.
Two Days, One Night, is a wonderful movie about a woman’s journey to ensure that she doesn’t lose her job. It feels realistic — if you can overlook its admittedly unrealistic premise — it has a great amount of depth that thinking audience members will want to squeeze out of it, and it contains a fantastic performance by Marion Cotillard, who makes you forget she’s a movie star by becoming a working-class Belgian woman. It’s surprisingly thrilling, too. All in all, Two Days, One Night is a great movie that’s well worth your time.