Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Pili Groyne
After having to take time off work after suffering a mental breakdown, Sandra (Cotillard) receives a phone call saying that her co-workers have been given a choice; having been able to cover the work without her, they can have a €1,000 bonus but at the expense of Sandra being made redundant, or they can choose for her to stay but they will not receive a bonus. With a secret ballot between her 16 co-workers planned for Monday morning, Sandra spends the weekend visiting all of these co-workers to persuade them to reject their offer of a bonus in favour of her keeping her job.
For years now the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have been creating mini masterpieces that unfortunately get seen by very few people, but they would probably not know what to do if they were suddenly given $200millon to make a film. What makes their films so superb is their simplicity, but these seemingly basic and simple narratives allow their films to have relatable characters who face relatable situations and therefore make their films all the more emotionally engaging. Everything is about context and in Dardenne brothers films the fate of the world may not be in the hands of the protagonist, but the challenges they face within the narrative are potentially life changing to them. The developments and the challenges the protagonists face are only essentially a big deal to them and those in their lives. However, the Dardenne brothers appreciate one of the most important rules of drama: the audience needs to care about the protagonist and be able to relate to and empathise with them. If we care about and empathise these characters then it makes for an emotionally engaging story, and the Dardenne brothers are the masters of this.
Our protagonist faces a potentially life changing moment and as the narrative develops we only care more for her situation as we learn more about her as a person and those around her. Of course her position is obvious in that she wants to keep her job, and as she talks to each of her colleagues they are never judged no matter what their potential decision. Though colleagues voting to opt for a bonus would mean the already emotional fragile Sandra losing her job, this is not a film that takes some moral stand point and we are never forced to dislike those that may vote to take their bonus. Those that opt for their bonus are justified in doing so. Two Days, One Night just depicts a situation with a very real matter-of-fact approach and is only more involving for doing that.
As with all Dardenne brothers’ films, Two Days, One Night has a very personal narrative but does have within that narrative much wider themes such as mental health, the importance of family and the relative lack of power of the working class over the fate. This only enhances the emotional involvement of the narrative.
In their naturalistic depiction of the situation Sandra and those close to her face, the Dardenne brother’s actually ignore one of the supposed basic rules of screenwriting, but yet it actually enhances the film. The dialogue should only be for the benefit of the audience, and so after we have heard Sandra explain her situation to one colleague we should in theory not hear it again as we now know her situation and further reminders would just slow the story down. Every time Sandra talks to a work colleague she opens with very similar words and this only helps us to share the emotional and physical drain the weekend causes for her.
Crucially, as Sandra Marion Cotillard is exceptional; she captures perfectly the desperation and isolation that Sandra experiences just through her facial expressions and her performance only enhances our emotional engagement with the narrative. Sandra is by no means a perfect individual and she frequently lets her emotions get the better of her, but yet these emotions are never portrayed over dramatically in a way to patronise the audience.
As Sandra’s boyfriend, Fabrizio Rongione is also excellent in a vitally important role. His character is a rock to both Sandra and indeed the narrative; one of the themes of the Dardenne’s films is the importance of family and those close to you and many of the narrative developments in Two Days, One Night powerfully examine this.
As the story develops it is impossible not care for the result of the vote and, like with all Dardenne brothers films, Two Days, One Night is a film with an ending that is both appropriate and emotionally satisfying.
The Dardenne brothers take yet another seemingly simple premise to create one again a deeply involving and emotionally engaging film; Two Days, One Night is yet another example from these two great filmmakers of the emotive power of cinema.