Writers: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Olivier Gourmet
Running time: 95mins
The lowdown: Belgian duo the Dardennes brothers deliver another low-key but riveting and compassionate account of life in the modern world. Marion Cotillard is typically mesmeric as a woman fighting for her factory job after a bout of depression sees her targeted for redundancy. A film of real warmth and humanity, pathos and humour, never striking a false note.
The full verdict: Living, breathing, Palme D’or winning proof that all that is required to make a good film is a good story, with minimal fuss the Dardennes have established themselves as two of the most vital filmmakers currently working.
Here the story is an all-too believable, spirit crushing Catch-22. Sandra (Cotillard) is a wife and mother of two recently off work with depression.
In her absence the bosses have decided they can get by with one person less and have elected to make her position redundant. Unless she can get a majority of her co-workers to vote to keep her on.
But, the catch is they will have to sacrifice their 1,000 Euros bonus if they side with Sandra.
An earlier vote has gone against her, with only two colleagues in her favour. Over the course of one weekend Sandra has to convince seven more co-workers to forgo their bonus so she can keep her livelihood.
Some filmmakers throw hundreds of millions of dollars of bleeding edge FX eye candy at the screen and the result is ditch-water dull. Others such as the Dardennes can shoot almost exclusively in medium wide-shot, typically with handheld camera and create a movie as gripping as any police procedural.
If the Dardennes move their camera in Two Days, One Night, it is to tirelessly follow Sandra in her quest from one co-worker to another. That they have broken usual form and hired an A-list Oscar winner in Cotillard matters not; in budget store clothes and scrunched hair, she disappears into the role.
What keeps the film captivating is how each co-worker reacts to Sandra’s predicament. Ranging from pity to support to shame to anger, all these scenes flesh out supporting characters, forcing them to choose between robbing someone of their livelihood and deciding which side of the breadline they will sit.
Other than the factory foreman (Gourmet), referred to in hushed tones but offscreen most of the time, there are no villains here, only people trying to make ends meet.
Dardenne regular Rongione is retained as believable back-up as Sandra’s supportive husband Manu, gently pushing her to confront co-workers and firmly stopping her from relapsing into depression.
But, Cotillard is the movie’s focus and she offers perhaps her finest turn to date. Frail yet increasingly determined, her speech rehearsed and revised after each encounter with a colleague, she gives a performance of incredible versatility and depth.
Like all Dardenne movies, heavy subject matter is turned into compelling drama without recourse to easy humour or sentiment; there is one wicked moment of ink black comedy and a denouement that is optimistic without ever feeling false.
Simple stories, expertly told with little flash but maturity and grace, despite the disappointing BBFC 15 rating this is grown-up cinema for all ages.