Film Review: two days, one night

Cole Amundson  |   Wednesday Apr. 1st, 2015

We live in a community that values its culture. The biggest events in town are celebrations of music, food and art. From Sweat Pea to The Art Walk; Bite Of Bozeman to Music on Main, Bozemanites arrive to these festivals in droves, and the popularity of these events should indicate a town with vibrant artistic venues. However, we have a concerning lack of proper music venues that could attract larger artists. A seemingly endless amount of our restaurants specialize in meat and potatoes. Our only cinema routinely rejects anything with less than a gazillion dollar budget.

    Until this rapidly expanding town manages to attract more diversity, we should thank our lucky stars for the presence of institutions like The Bozeman Film Society. Though somewhat rigid with their schedule and sparse with their screenings, they manage to bring in many films that the multiplex refuses outright: works from writer/directors like the Coen Brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson, challenging arthouse features like Force Majeure, and independent comedy films. Most recently (at the time of writing this article) they screened Two Days, One Night, directed by the Belgian Dardenne brothers (Jean-Pierre and Luc) and starring Marion Cotillard.

    Two Days, One Night is a small film brief in its running time, modest in style and technique, and limited to an insular Belgian town. But it’s a passionate film, one that will cause any viewer to mull over the many moral dilemmas presented. Sandra (Cotillard) is one of a handful of workers at a Solar Panel factory and on an extended depression-related sick-leave. She’s nearly ready to return but, at the end of a work week, her co-workers are forced to make a choice between receiving their €1,000 bonus or letting her go. Convinced the factory foreman intimidated them into voting against her; she and a friend manage to get a re-vote scheduled for the following Monday. This allows her the weekend to persuade all sixteen co-workers to help her stay, forgoing their bonuses in the process.

    The film is structured around each of these encounters. Each conversation is intimate and personal, everyone has something on the line. For Sandra, losing her job would mean that she and her husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), would be unable to support their family in their current home, forcing them back into public housing. For others, losing the bonus would mean being unable to pay bills, repair their car, or support their child through school. The film, however, casts no moral judgment against those who choose to keep their bonus. Though some reactions to Sandra’s pleas are more petty and callous than others, their needs are portrayed as rational and legitimate. The film’s strongest critique, yet most implicit, is reserved for the system which causes these people to Balkanize and fight for mere necessities. Frequently Sandra and her co-workers remark, without anger, that they didn’t do this to each other. That they’re not voting against her or the bonus, but in their own interest.

    Yet this fight is more than financial for Sandra. Throughout the film she recklessly devours her Xanax prescription, to the dismay of her husband. She’s convinced that he only stays with her out of pity and she repeatedly gives up on her quest. He denies this, and twists her arm to get her moving. What she dreads when confronting these people is not the self-effacement required to plead for her job, or the swallowing of her pride. Rather, what she is most afraid of is not only making someone else believe that she’s worth €1000, but also convincing herself that she’s worth anything at all, let alone a stable job, or the love her family gives her.

    The Dardenne’s are known for casting non-actors and unknowns in their work, and Cotillard’s appearance in this film ostensibly denotes a departure from her previous work. Gone are the signs of her international superstardom. From the opening frame her posture is slouched and skin tone anemic as if she would crumble under the stress of any movement. This a far cry from her other work in 2014, James Gray’s criminally under-seen melodrama, The Immigrant, where she plays a Polish woman in 1920s New York who is forced into prostitution, so that she might get her sister out of Ellis Island. Both films are about a woman forced into almost uncontrollable situations, but her resilience in The Immigrant is immediately apparent. Despite her sensitivity, and the guilt over what she does her eyes, large and expressive like those of a silent movie star, betray an unshakable dignity. In Two Days, One Night, the story is about arriving within proximity of that sort of inner strength. As little moral choices play out, and small gestures accumulate, Sandra’s eyes begin to light up and open. The film measures this progress with short musical interludes from the car stereo (the only music in the film comes out of those speakers) where she first takes control of the volume from her husband, and later blasts Van Morrison’s “Gloria.”

    Though the moral component of the film will likely draw in most viewers, who will wonder what they would do in such a circumstance, this sort of thinking fades into the back of your mind as you watch Cotillard’s character begin to find that invincible summer within herself, as she starts thinking she’s not half-bad.
    Two Days, One Night was screened by The Bozeman Film Society on March 12th. There is currently no announced date for an American DVD release.     

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