Two Days, One Night concerns the efforts of a female factory worker, recovering from a bout of depression, as she tries to persuade her colleagues to vote to keep her job. There is, however, one major obstacle – her boss has offered everyone else a 1000€ bonus in the event that she is fired. The ballot is commissioned on a Friday and set to occur on the following Monday, giving Sandra (Marion Cotillard) the weekend to call and/or visit her co-workers and enlist their support.
The film is very effective and certainly leaves a lasting impression, with a refreshingly neutral form of social commentary, allowing the viewer to understand that it is, of course, very hard for people to turn down the prospect of an extra 1000€. The Dardenne Brothers are also keen to emphasise that a number of people are worse off than their protagonist, and that while we do want her to get her job back as her family, income and mental stability may well depend on it, there are other people who equally need the bonus.
The Dardennes have developed a rich and simple script, largely devoid of traditional filmic drama, creating a much less contrived form of realism. Indeed, the most engaging and memorable moments of the film are the downplayed and everyday, helped by skillful and naturalistic dialogue and absorbing performances from a terrific ensemble cast.
‘Performances’ is the wrong word, really, as everyone in this world seems to exist truthfully and totally in their place. Even Cotillard (who is not only a big name but also a very recognisable face) completely disappears into her role, which is partly due to her incredible talent and partly due to the excellent foundations laid by her writer/directors.
The Dardennes must also be congratulated on their ability to present a cross-section of the middle-class and working-class demographic in a way that is neither patronising nor proselytising. From the writing to the acting to the cinematography, this film gives us a world and lets us look at it the way we want to rather than forcing the opinions of the filmmakers on us or making the factory workers and factory manager appear like monsters.
I was so pleased with this film overall that, unfortunately, the couple of moments where problems emerged really did stick out for me because it was a disappointment compared to the rest of the film.
If I was to be really picky, there is one scene (admittedly a short one) where the otherwise invisible hands of the writer/directors become irritatingly obvious, and a line appears that is both unnecessary and too poetic to match the rest of the drama. But the main problem is that a couple of plot devices much more familiar to more contrived films emerge and don’t fit, making them seem trivial or overlooked, rather than dramatic and downplayed.
One is a spoiler (that the BBFC kindly spoil it for us in their 15 certificate classification), the other concerns a character who, after various flip-flopping, decides that she will not only support Sandra, but she will also leave her husband. A few scenes later, we see her again and she is asked if she’s sure about her latter decision, to which she says in a very offhand way ‘We were thinking of moving in together and having a baby but this is best’, and then everyone decides to turn up the radio and sing along to a rock song and completely forget what she has just said. That, I’m sad to say, is too big an omission for me, and taints an otherwise brilliant film.
However, I would highly recommend this film. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it is moving, superbly acted, generally very well judged from two very skilled writer-directors, and my fussy idiosyncrasies are unlikely to be shared by the vast majority of normal people.