The Dardenne brother’s are back, and they’ve thrown in nothing but the kitchen sink, in this finely cut French-language drama.
Two Days, One Night follows Sandra (Marian Cotillard), having taken leave due to depression, she finds an ultimatum between their bonuses and her job has seen her colleagues vote her unemployed. However a new ballot is set for Monday morning, and she has the weekend to convince them to save her. Sandra struggle is renewed as the stress of ‘begging’ in front of her friends relapses her depression. Without a doubt the highlight of this film. And though mid-shots and the rule of thirds become quickly tiresome, it’s almost worth it to give Cotillard the space to act. You’ve not heard wrong. Her performance made this film’s entry into the Palme d’Or well deserved.
Natural and understated performances are difficult; Cotillard has to show the true repetitive nature of depression without it becoming trite or cliché, which she does wonderfully. Though the family around her are unsung: Fabrizio Rongione plays her husband, Manu, effortlessly along with Pili Groyne and Simon Caudry in the little screen time they have.
The extremely convincing family and friends of Sandra will keep any cinemagoer caring for all 95 minutes – a trait the directors have carried over from their 2011 film The Kid with a Bike.
Unfortunately the Dardenne’s intimate storyboard was much more compelling three years ago, with some of the early film falling short of ‘less is more’ and simply into ‘less’. The Dardennes are comfortable in their reductionist style, (consciously, judging by a recent Sight&Sound interview) which will disappoint keener viewers. But, again, this benefit Cotillard’s character – made up with simple gest, sticking her head out a car window when happy, rubbing her throat before a low – the illness in Two Days, One Night cuts much closer to the bone than it did in Melancholia.
It is good to see filmmakers do the simple things right and this threadbare flick does provide us with those kinds of moments. Even in Sandra’s clothing giving her an almost Plathian exposure or in the way the camera, finally, releases her at the very end. Although where we wanted powerful imagery – like the kid with a bike lit by a kitchen light, watching and waiting for his never-to-return dad – we’re given Sandra stood in a boring factory corridor with her boring Dickensian foreman.
Luc Dardenne described a ‘coup de foudre, cinematographique’ between the directors and their lead – it’s certainly felt – and Two Days, One Night with its sleek runtime isn’t astounding but it certainly pays homage to that.