In “Two Days, One Night,” the writing/directing duo Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, and they make it look effortless.
Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a factory worker at a solar-panel company, has just gotten over a bout of depression and is ready to return to work. Unfortunately, she learns that her co-workers have decided to take a bonus, something that would cause her termination. So, the weekend before she’s supposed to return, she tries to convince her colleagues to change their minds.
If this sounds like a simple premise, it is. The Dardenne brothers tell it with such clarity and authenticity that it doesn’t need to be any more complex. The picture moves along at a steady pace, never meandering off-track. And at 95 minutes, the movie is briskly able to bring the story to a satisfying close without dragging on. Overall, “Two Days, One Night” is one of the best-structured and -paced movies of 2014.
With a story like this, it would be easy to make a one-sided and heavy-handed “working-class-citizen-vs.-a-heartless-corporation” movie. but the Dardennes wisely stay objective. This is most clearly illustrated in the depiction of the co-workers: They aren’t greedy, one-dimensional CEOs but average, working-class people like Sandra who would benefit from the bonus. Some of them opt to take the bonus, but you can’t blame them for it.
The Dardennes pull all of this off without relying on any melodrama or cheap sentimentality. No scene is made more dramatic than it needs to be; no intrusive music swells up at crucial moment. In fact, there isn’t a score at all. T
he Dardennes don’t use any manipulative techniques to get you invested in the narrative. Instead, the brothers employ down-to-earth, almost cinema verite-style filmmaking that doesn’t talk down to the audience. Important plot revelations and character development is done in a casual and organic manner.
As Sandra, Cotillard convincingly portrays a fragile yet resilient person. She needs this job for her livelihood, but at the same time, she doesn’t feel comfortable trying to convince people to choose against their own livelihood. It’s a fantastic performance that, like the rest of the movie, is sincere, without going overboard. Oftentimes Cotillard is able to convey feelings of panic, worry, anger and sadness through facial expressions, without saying a word.
In the end, “Two Days, One Night” is an easy movie to enjoy, done in a simple, unassuming way that feels true-to-life.