Friday, February 13, 2015

Two Days, One Night

There's a little bit of Don Quioxte in Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne's French film Two Days, One Night. Marion Cotillard stars as a factory worker ready to return to work following a nervous breakdown only to discover that her coworkers, after being given the option by their boss, have decided they would rather have their yearly bonuses than her return.

Allowing Sandra to plead her case, her boss schedules another vote on the following Monday giving her two days to convince a majority of her 16 coworkers to change their minds and allow her to return. Championed by her husband (Fabrizio Rongione) and best-friend (Catherine Salée), Sandra begins a series of heartwrenching conversations with coworkers who, like her, need the money.

There are no real heroes or villains (with the exception of Sandra's boss and one angry young man) in the film. Many simply are relying on their bonus to make ends meet and others simply don't wish to give up money they feel they earned during her absence.

Despite her fragile state and some early rebuffs of her attempt to plead for her job, Sandra continues to push forward with the encouragement of her husband and eventually begin to find a few friends willing to help her. From the start Sandra's quest, much like the state of her life, seems hopeless but the process of fighting for her job does more to help the woman recover a sense of herself than all of the time off and medication taken since her breakdown.

You'll likely have to search for Two Days, One Night at your local art house theater or wait to view it on home video but it's certainly worth the time. In as understated a performance as I've seen her in Cotillard is terrific balancing the strength and fragility of Sandra who, thanks to her husband pushing her out the door, begins to find her feet again after being forced to battle a few windmills blocking her path.

More than once I thought of how awful a Hollywood version of this simple premise would be to watch. Here the emotions of Sandra, and those she attempts to convince, are never lost to the film's plot or any device involving overdeveloped plans or hijinks. The result is a moving film offering a realistic portrayal of an impossible position one woman is forced to endure and somehow find her way through. One could certainly complain that the ending feels a bit too pat but it's Sandra's journey, not where it ends, that makes Two Days, One Night a memorable time at the movies.

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