Real stories about the real people at the bottom of the social ladder has always been the driving mantra behind Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s films. Two Days, One Night follows very much the same formula, as Sandra, looking at immanent lay off from her menial job, is given a chance to save it. A humane and touching story, colourful and rich, incorporating the life and vibrancy of The Kid With A Bike with some of the grit of The Silence Of Lorna and Rosetta. Two Days, One Night manages to excel, even amongst a repertoire as impressive as that offered by the Belgian auteurs.
The film focuses on Sandra’s quest to secure ballet votes in the hopes of saving her job, one that she desperately needs. Her workmates are torn between having to vote to save her job or voting to receive a tidy bonus, which creates a real dilemma in the eyes of those colleagues as cash-strapped as Sandra herself. A story of love, camaraderie, perseverance and humanity pervaded by the usual solemnity we expect from a Dardenne bros. feature.
The result of this simple plot and the expediency that comes from jolty, natural film-making is vibrant realism, the Dardenne brothers’ bread and butter, complete with the usual grave desperation. Two Days, One Night manages to conjure up something new however, alongside its directors’ unmistakable trademarks there is additional depth. Traditionally characters in Dardenne bros. films are vassals built from the ground up to survive the thankless world into which they’ve been plunged, and tell the harrowing story of loss or addiction, feeling slightly too hopeless and highly strung, ready to collapse at any opportunity, compromising realism for the sake of desperation. Two Days, One Night on the other hand feels living and colourful, with an ensemble led by Sandra, whose whims seem to exude real life in a manner I’ve not seen in previous works, qualities no doubt aided by a praise-worthy central performance from Marion Cotillard and by a beautifully rich palette.
Marion Cotillard drives the film brilliantly, complementing the style and the atmosphere with her homely, measured and understanding portrayal of long suffering depressive Sandra. Alongside her, Fabrizio Rongione plays Manu, loving husband of Sandra and father to their two children.
Much of the film’s content lies in Sandra’s exploration into the home lives of her colleagues, where she meets them, often bemused, to convince them of her plight. What follows is a charming array of characters, whose surroundings, as well as obvious self interested motives, create heaps of natural intrigue.
Devoid of extraneous melodrama, Two Days, One Night is quiet and charming. I remember being taken aback during a certain scene ending in a hospital visit, by the palpable gravity, suddenness and distinct lack of fabricated drama forced down your throat. This distilled, developed method of realism feels powerful and confident, and is a display of noticeable growth over The Kid With A Bike’s magical, almost pantomimesque dynamism.
Musically speaking the film is true to its realist roots, choosing to swim in background street noise, as oppose to develop a musical score. A ballsy decision, one very few directors are comfortable in making, and one that only really works alongside genuine attempts at cinematic realism, films that have no need in brandishing their thoughts through music, comfortable in saying live and let live and relying on the performance of its actors and the strength of its dialogue. Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne have certainly proved themselves as ballsy, time and time again, an attribute that’s helped cement them as taste makers at the forefront of European cinema, with Two Days, One Night standing proudly beside Rosetta and The Child as the trophies in their cabinet.