Two Days, One Night August 22, 2015
Marion Cotillard cannot be confined. As her career’s taken off and she’s become a Jeanne Moreau of sorts, she’s often spent her days off in Hollywood studio fare that likes to put her in high profile but thankless supporting roles that place her in a sort of exotic fog. When in her native France, though, she doesn’t have to worry about being the love interest, the sidelined beauty who never gets a chance to escape the shimmering clutter of typecasting. She turns into the kind of star the cinema is rarely able to grasp, so stunningly talented that even the most arid of a project seems to glow merely because she’s in it.
Two Days, One Night is destined to become a film young, aspiring actresses look up to in the near future, showcasing Cotillard’s imitable acting style in its most bare-bones form. Like Gena Rowlands in Opening Night, Monica Vitti in Red Desert, and Naomi Watts in 21 Grams, Cotillard is so generous with her emotional palette that all we can do is step a few feet back and let her faux fragility do the talking. She is enthralling, and, thanks to the convincing moxie of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, so is Two Days, One Night.
Before the story comes to fruition, we find out that Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a middle-class factory worker, has recently been released from a mental hospital after a nervous breakdown. Only moments after her discharge does she find out that she has been laid off — her manager, it seems, proposed to either give all associates a €1,000 raise or give Sandra her position back, and the other associates, being middle-class factory workers too, chose the obvious. But with a family and spouse to support, she isn’t content to merely sit back and let unemployment wash over her — so, after convincing her boss to schedule a revote, she spends the next few days going to the homes of each and every staff member in hopes of persuasion. With clinical depression tugging her arm at each turn, though, Sandra is forced to come to terms with the situation and decide whether to push forward or succumb to her cloying doubts.
The premise of Two Days, One Night is simple but the poignancy it entails is heavy and ultimately soul-stirring. The films of the Dardennes are deceitful, documentary-like in their directorial preferences yet sneakily rousing in their presentation of the vulnerabilities of humanity. Two Days, One Night sees them at their most ambitious, placing an international star at the center of their screenplay and allowing much of the ardency to rely on her performance alone. With her saucer eyes and revealing face, Cotillard can say more with an expression than a line, more with a tear than a confrontational cry for help. She is stupendous.
But what makes Two Days, One Night work as something more than an opportunity for a great actress to undertake an onerous role is the resolute realism the Dardennes encircle the film with. The people surrounding Sandra are not necessarily allies or enemies but people who can either say no to a €1,000 bonus or say yes for the sake of supporting their family. The way Cotillard portrays Sandra in each situation, with melancholy understanding or unforced optimism, is deeply moving. Fabrizio Rongione’s performance as her unwaveringly supportive husband matches in its spirit.
A showcase of the talents of Cotillard and the Dardennes, Two Days, One Night is among the finest of 2014 — not artistically mad like Birdman or The Grand Budapest Hotel, it lets its emotions, its star, its filmmakers speak for themselves and present us with something big in its small scale. A