Often there is a chasm between American films and European ones, at least those that make their way across the Atlantic. American movies tend to favor easy, fast-moving stories, while European films can be ponderous journeys into the day-to-day lives of seemingly ordinary people.
That’s certainly the case with Two Days, One Night, in which Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a factory worker who’s been on sick leave for depression, must fight for her job after her co-workers voted to fire her in favor of their receiving bonuses. Sandra literally goes door-to-door to plead her case to each of them, with varying results.
Marion Cotillard’s performance is much like the film: plain on the surface, but richer the more you dig.
That’s it. That’s the entire movie. Although there are mild extenuating circumstances in the reasons people decided to vote the way they did, there are no huge dramatics or sudden left turns like you might find in an American movie. It’s just a simple, straightforward look at the struggles of one woman and the people around her.
Yet there’s something oddly compelling about the film. Written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, each encounter Sandra has turns into a mini psychological study, forcing the audience to put themselves in the shoes of those individuals. Most say they are sympathetic to Sandra’s plight, but when tempted by the bonus, and facing their own personal issues, they have a hard time changing their minds.
Then there’s the idea of having to face the woman whose job you took away. It’s easy to vote for something when the person it affects is not in the room, but it’s so much tougher when she’s standing right in front of you. The Dardennes do nothing special with the face-offs, but most are fascinating nonetheless.
The performance of Cotillard — who earned a surprise Best Actress nod for her role — is much like the film: plain on the surface, but richer the more you dig. She likely doesn’t stand a chance at the Oscars, but she does bring the intricacies of Sandra’s world to life. And watching someone haul herself out of a sad state can’t help but be uplifting.
Two Days, One Night is a slice-of-life story that speaks to struggles with which most people can empathize. Although it doesn’t deliver the entertainment American moviegoers are used to, it’s nice to experience something that’s real instead of fantastical once in a while.