The movie’s set up is immaculate. Hardly moments have passed by and you already have a deep feel for Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a woman faced with a dilemma that could result in her losing her job based on the voting of her co-workers who lose their thousand Euro bonus if they vote for her. What it also clearly shows is the central character’s vulnerability as a sufferer of depression, and that her weary legs, figuratively, are buckling at the knees. Even with an extremely supportive and determined husband, and a couple of kids, Sandra may still fall over.
The concept of the movie might seem a tough sell. The notion of someone having to persuade colleagues (some she knows fairly well, some not so much) to give her the vote so she can keep her job, while taking into account both parties and their respective economic struggles and the importance of family and survival and well-being. Many of know the feeling of losing a job or the gloomy prospect of it, the wondering and worrying how you will pay the rent, get food on the table, take care of your family and children. The plight of the characters involved in the movie’s journey have these kind of decisions to make and burdens to bare.
As I was watching Two Days, One Night there were real moments that made me think I was watching a social horror, with that stomach-turning fear of losing a job or attempting to take your own life away. This, though, is more like a documentary as we follow Sandra on her uphill battle, but more importantly so because it is depicting real problems of real people.
There are some great moments too. When Sandra visits a young father at kids football practice, he bursts into tears, were you instantly assume he cannot help her. But instead his anguish is because he feels ashamed he didn’t vote for her before, and that of course he will vote for her now. It is such a moving moment, possibly the best scene of this movie. Without attempting to spoil anything here too, when Sandra is blessed with a further vote she is over-joyed, but in that euphoria has to confess she has just taken a whole box of pills. A heartbreaking scene. The Dardennes have complete control of the simplicity of feeling such emotions in these very real times – I’m talking about the characters, and us, the audience, as we absorb it.
Cotillard’s character wears colourful tops, and the sun is shining pretty much the whole weekend, but she is worn down and fragile, and openly claims she is nothing. She has little left in the tank, and it is tragic and upsetting to see. More so as Sandra is a generous, honest woman, who can appreciate the sensitivity of everyone’s point of view.
They also score high marks for the Dardennes for demonstrating how effective a movie can be without the need for stirring music. The only music in the entire film are a couple of songs that play on the radio in the car – both small but important parts of the plot. Even as the end titles roll there is no music, just the natural sounds you hear when you would consider yourself having a bit of peace and quiet. Perfect for pondering over a really good movie you have just seen.
The ending itself is so complete, there is a redemption to what you are seeing. That after all of that mental pain and suffering, Sandra can see a new door she can open, walk through, and we hope she will get by. Her attitude shift and smile in the final shot leave us with that.
Marion Cotillard’s performance is so believable and penetrating, I almost had to remind myself we already know she is a good actress. And that this is an actress who yet again just disappears into the character. In the current awards race there is talk of it being a weak year for women, but Cotillard is yet another example that suggests it is not.
As I was editing this, Marion Cotillard took the Best Actress prize for Two Days, One Night, and The Immigrant at the New York Film Critics Circle.