No one makes films quite like the Dardenne brothers,
Jean-Pierre and Luc. I became a convert when I saw La Promesse nearly twenty years ago; I couldn’t believe that a
story so apparently simple and straightforward could be so gripping. They bring
their experience in documentary filmmaking to the world of fiction; using a
hand-held camera and eschewing a music score, they create the feeling of being
a fly on the wall watching events unfold in their home town in Belgium.
Marion Cotillard plays the leading character in their latest
effort, Two Days, One Night, but she
blends seamlessly into their world and never wears the badge of Movie Star.
Cotillard is completely convincing in a decidedly unglamorous part as a worker
at a small factory who, upon being released from the hospital (where she has
been treated for depression), discovers that her job has been eliminated. Her
boss is determined to cut costs, but he offers her one glimmer of hope: if she
can convince her fellow workers to give up the bonuses he’s promised them, he’ll
rehire her. The matter will be put to a vote on Monday morning and she has only
the weekend to muster support.
The ticking clock fuels Cotillard’s anxiety and she spends
every waking minute of the next two days visiting her colleagues to enlist
their support. She realizes that this must be done face to face, even though
it’s awkward, if not downright humiliating. How can she ask a group of ordinary
working stiffs—some of whom are friendly, others not—to forego much-needed cash
for her sake?
expect the Dardennes to underscore a theme or moral. Yet in its modest way Two Days, One Night speaks volumes about
the way we live in the 21st century: how modern businesses operate,
how working people struggle to cope, and how we relate to the people around us.
The film could also serve as a master class in building suspense: shorn of
Hollywood theatrics and the support of a musical score, it has us on the edge
of our seat wondering how things will turn out for Cotillard. She represents an
Everywoman here and does it magnificently well.