Marion Cotillard is the heart of the quiet Belgian film, Deux Jours, Une Nuit (Two Days, One Night), which refers to the amount of time her character Sandra has to convince her coworkers to forgo their bonuses in order to let her keep her job. Brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne wrote and directed this film that was Belgium’s official entry for Oscar’s best foreign film. (It didn’t make the cut, but French-born Cotillard got a nomination for best actress.)
Cotillard does an excellent job of portraying Sandra, who, in addition to having to fight for her job, is also battling depression. Though her situation is certainly difficult, she has the loving support of Manu, her husband and her rock (played by Fabrizio Rongione), who pushes her gently but firmly in the right direction.
I would hope that the premise of this film—that employees must choose between their bonuses or allowing a colleague to return to work after medical leave—would never happen in real life. But it makes for an interesting dilemma.
We watch Sandra spend a weekend tracking down her peers so that she can ask them outright to vote for her. This would never be a pleasant proposition for anyone but is especially grueling to a woman as fragile as Sandra, who doubts herself enough already without being in the position of fighting for a low-level factory job that is crucial to support her family.
Because she essentially presents the same case to each of the other 16 workers, the audience hears her spiel multiple times. Had this movie been presented in Hollywood, I imagine film executives would have summarily refused to back it due to the script’s inherent repetition. American audiences probably aren’t as patient in general as European movie-goers (if our high-energy, smash-’em-up summer blockbusters are any indication).
But with each plea, we are experiencing with Sandra the weariness, the frustration, the misplaced hostility, and the surprising moments of kindness. Each person’s response is different, and we realize that of course each of them has a life away from work that requires them to consider more than just Sandra’s job. So we have to be there for every door she knocks on to understand what she’s going through. It may not be a psychopathic serial killer on the loose, but I felt real tension every time Sandra pleaded her case right up until Monday morning’s vote.
Realistic, thoughtful drama takes time, and I felt my 95 minutes were well spent watching Two Days, One Night.
*Two movies down, and ten still to see by February 22.