By now the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, have established themselves as a major force within the Belgian movie industry. They write, produce and direct their pictures together. They’ve been nominated for the Palme d’Or, the top prize at Cannes, SIX times and have actually won twice. Their latest is the French language Two Days, One Night, yet another one of their films that appropriates the aesthetics of directors like Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. The principles of 1940s Italian neorealism is updated to modern day Belgium in a tale that documents one working class woman’s journey to reclaim her job.
Sandra (Marion Cotillard) has suffered a nervous breakdown and has taken a leave of absence. While away, her colleagues pick up her slack by putting in longer hours. In exchange they are promised the hefty bonus of €1000 Euros. Now redundant, Sandra’s ability to return to work hinges on a vote amongst her co-workers. They must agree to either forgo their extra salary so she can be hired back OR keep their compensation and invalidate her position.
Marion Cotillard is a gorgeous woman and she’s naturally pretty here but not the unattainable beauty she often plays in American films. She is a working class mother and wife, dealing with the threat of losing her job. She presents a desperate woman persuading her co-workers to relinquish their bonuses. In this way, the small solar-panel factory where they’re employed, will hire her back. Sandra is not well. She has nightmares during the day, cannot stop crying, and is popping pills at an alarming rate just to stay calm. Cotillard conveys a world weary vulnerability. She is utterly believable as a woman still suffering from serious mental illness.
What isn’t credible is that a company would decide whether to rehire a sick employee back, by placing that decision in the hands of said person’s co-workers . Perhaps this kind of egalitarianism on the job is commonplace in Belgium but in the U.S. there is a distinct hierarchy in the workplace. At any level of responsibility, one reports to a person known as a supervisor and that boss is responsible for making decisions in the best interest of the company. Whether people get hired or fired is not left to one’s peers to decide. The premise is so contrived and far fetched that it makes the nature of the tragedy seem kind of ridiculous. Add to the fact that the entire movie consists of watching a woman, albeit a sympathetic one, beg for her job to one person after another for 90 minutes. Marion Cotillard commands your attention but the drama itself is awkward, demeaning and unpleasantly repetitive.