Cotillard’s portrayal of mental anguish is incredible. Set-up’s a little hard to swallow.
The Dardenne brothers’ latest film, Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, Une Nuit) hangs on an incredible performance from the incomparable Marion Cotillard as Sandra, a mother of two struggling to conquer her depression. Just about keeping afloat, with the help of a Xanax addiction, her thin veneer of coping crumbles when her boss at a solar panel factory based in an industrial estate gives her an impossible ultimatum: keep her job, thereby saving her heavily mortgaged house, while her co-workers all lose their $1000 annual bonus, or walk away with nothing. What makes this decision all the more complex (and a little far-fetched) is that that it isn’t really hers to make. Sandra must convince the majority of her colleagues to vote on keeping her in her in work at their own expense.
Cotillard is utterly captivating, a true chameleon who perfectly captures not only the mental hurdles of crushing depression, but also physically transforms, right down to her world-weary, heavy-shouldered walk. You can see the mental anguish of her quiet, internal battle to retain dignity, even as she feels like falling apart.
Those issues I have with the believability of the central concept did pull me out of the story somewhat. I’m just not sure how likely it is that employees would be forced to make such a critical employment decision regarding a colleague on the basis of a secret ballot. The first half of the film also suffers from a formulaic approach, as Sandra meets with each co-worker one-by-one to plead her case. It’s a testament to Cotillard’s ability that she can convey her intense desire not to judge those who really need the cash. But would anyone in a similar boat truly be that hard-hearted to see her let go for the sake of a grand? The Dardenne’s script really had to try harder to sell that, perhaps by further playing up the economic tensions wreaking havoc in Europe and by more fully exploring the mental health issues at play here. The title is also misleading. As far as I can tell, the timeline appears to take in three days and two evenings.
I feel the second half is a vast improvement when events take a turn for the more dramatic, though far from the Dardenne’s overplaying their hand. This really is a one-woman show, but there is also good stuff to be had from Fabrizio Rongione, a frequent Dardenne collaborator, as Sandra’s supportive husband, and also from a fellow factory worker played by Christelle Cornil, striving to support Sandra despite her own struggles with an oppressive husband who is wearing her down. There’s a fantastic emotional pay-off, too, with Serge Koto’s immigrant contract worker, fearing for his own visa.
An emotionally raw and yet refined piece, Cotillard raises Two Days, One Night beyond my problems with the plot.
Stephen A Russell