When Sandra (Marion Cotillard) learns that she is to be made redundant from her job, she seems defeated. Her husband, however, has different ideas, and encourages Sandra to approach her colleagues over the space of a weekend, to suggest that they vote for her to keep her job. The trouble is that if Sandra keeps her job, her colleagues will lose their bonuses.
The premise of Two Days, One Night seems as though it could be a film set in the 1950s, with a secretary petitioning for her job over the introduction of a computerised workforce. Instead of a farce, however, the Daredennes’ film is in keeping with much of the directors’ previous work; it examines human nature and the current political and economic struggles in society.
Marion Cotillard simply owns Two Days, One Night as Sandra. Cotillard inhabits the character, making the woman who is fighting for her job utterly relatable and believable. Cotillard even changes her walk and body language to better portray a woman who is suffering and humiliated at the task she has taken on. Cotillard never overplays the character, making Sandra a quiet but powerful force at the centre of the film. The rest of the cast is made up of Fabrizio Rongione as Sandra’s caring husband Manu, Pili Groyne, Simon Caudry and Catherine Salée.
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have woven together a tale of depression, bullying and economic panic in Two Days, One Night; Sandra is a woman who has been off sick from work due to mental health issues, and although she believes she is fit to return to work, these issues soon rear their head when Sandra has to face the idea that she may lose her job. Through the eyes of those Sandra encounters, the audience begins to learn more about the world of the film, in which mental health issues are a stigma, bullying is rampant and fear mongering means that people are afraid of the people they work with. In this way, Two Days, One Night is a carefully observed snapshot of modern society, and the way that we deal with those around us with mental health issues, and the sad fact that people often profit off the misfortune of others.
The Dardennes – as directors – allow Marion Cotillard to take centre stage and weave the issues around her. Cotillard is gentle but powerful in the central role, and she has a unique effect on those around her. There is no deus ex machina ending here, but there is one that allows Sandra to finally take control of her life again, and it is perhaps this that she was searching for all along.
Two Days, One Night is a carefully observed portrait of mental illness, bullying and greed. Cotillard is on fine form in the central role, allowing the tale of modern woes to take shape around her.