A review of the simple, timely and moving “Two Days, One Night,” starring Marion Cotillard as a quiet, working-class hero. Star rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
At the heart of the Dardenne brothers’ naturalistic drama “Two Days, One Night” is a dilemma so simple and so timely, it barely feels like fiction. Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a mother of two and a worker in a small Belgian factory, is given notice of a layoff on a Friday; she was out on sick leave, suffering from depression. The factory’s management, in her absence, has offered bonuses to the employees for picking up the extra work. A vote will be cast on Monday, deciding whether she will return (the ballots read simply “Sandra or Bonus”) — and Sandra and her loyal husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), must spend the weekend visiting her 16 colleagues, trying to persuade them to forgo the extra money and save her job.
As the title indicates, the clock is ticking as the fragile Sandra trudges from one modest dwelling to another, dropping in on her co-workers’ weekend lives. She finds them in cafes, laundromats, playing fields where they coach their children, at the off-the-books jobs they work on Saturdays to make ends meet. All of them, like Sandra and her family, are financially struggling, and the Dardennes miraculously make each of them — who we meet for only a few minutes — a seemingly full, nuanced person with his or her own complex story. Though not all are receptive to Sandra’s plea (that bonus, notes one, is “a year’s gas and electric bills”), none are villains; just people, in a nondescript working-class suburb as birds chirp on a sunny weekend, getting by.
And at the center of it all is a devastatingly intimate performance from Cotillard, who’s pale and slouchy here, as if something deep inside of her is painfully clenched. Sandra, struggling to hold herself together (tears are this woman’s unwanted default), knows one thing only: She must work, she must help support her family, she must help maintain a modest life that we know without being told is hard-won. (In the front yard of the family’s small house: a small tree, trying hard to take root and grow.) Sandra trembles, pops pills and swigs water obsessively, lets her voice fade to a whisper and her eyes fill — but, like the ordinary hero that she is, soldiers on.
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Two Days, One Night,’ with Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione. Written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. 95 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements. In French with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema Uptown.