I have this insatiable appetite for watching great actors or actresses work. I mean we all appreciate good acting, but for me there is something special about losing myself in great performances – a type of overwhelming and unequivocal admiration which enhances any moviegoing experience I may have. And there are certain actors and actresses who I know will automatically give these types of magnetic performances. One such actress is Marion Cotillard. Readers of mine probably know I think highly of her. In fact she holds a prominent spot on my “Greatest Series” list of the best actresses of all time (you can see that list HERE). She is one of the most intense and natural performers I have ever seen.
Cotillard’s latest movie teams her with the Belgian born Dardenne brothers and she once again shows off her wealth of talent. “Two Days, One Night” features several of the Dardennes’ thematic signatures. Most notably, their films take a naturalistic look at common, everyday people who often find themselves in difficult situations. There is no gloss or showiness to a Dardenne picture. Their movies tend to be unsentimental and they never romanticize their subject matter. In many ways it is as if they are holding up a cinematic mirror to human struggles which can make their films a bit bleak and depressing.
In “Two Days, One Night” Cotillard plays Sandra. She’s a wife and mother working at a solar-panel plant in a Belgian industrial town. While on sick leave recovering from a nervous breakdown, Sandra is informed she has lost her job. While she was away her colleagues earned more money covering her shifts and management offers them a €1000 bonus if they vote to absorb Sandra’s position. The news hits the already emotionally fragile Sandra hard since her family depends on her salary to keep their home and to stay off government assistance.
But Sandra is encouraged by a friend and co-worker named Juliette (Catherine Salee) who convinces the company’s head to have another vote to decide Sandra’s fate. That gives Sandra a weekend to go visit each of her 16 co-workers in hopes of persuading them to give up their €1000 bonus and vote for her to get her job back on Monday morning. This would be a nerve-racking and uncomfortable task for anyone, but toss in the complication of her recent nervous breakdown and Sandra has seemingly insurmountable odds to overcome.
Most of the film follows her visits to her co-workers and the various exchanges they have. Through these brief interactions the Dardennes spotlight various shades of human nature, but there is more to it than just that. There is also the constant emotional struggle that often times gets the best of Sandra. Even the support of her patient and faithful husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) isn’t enough. We get a truly visceral and earnest portrait of depression that works so well due to the Dardennes’ disciplined focus and Cotillard’s sublime performance.
Cotillard has this unmatched ability to deglamorize herself and become whatever her role requires. We’ve often seen this from her in the past and it is definitely on display here. She gives a subdued and low-key performance, perfectly fitting for the portrayal of a woman struggling within her bubble of depression. And she truly does carry the movie. She appears in almost every scene and the filmmaker’s confidence in her is crystal clear. She doesn’t overplay her role (which we often see in the these kinds of performances) and she doesn’t give us a single false scene or line of dialogue. It’s a performance unquestionably worthy of her recent Oscar nomination.
As usual the Dardennes write, produce, and direct “Two Days, One Night” which makes the film
undeniably their own. I appreciate their many creative touches from the strategic lack of a musical score to Dardenne favorite Alain Marcoen’s subtly attentive cinematography. I also love the unfeigned realism of their subject matter which is such a fresh change from the big studio norms of today. It also doesn’t hurt having a phenomenal lead performance to drive the film. Together all of these ingredients make “Two Days, One Night” another great entry into the Dardennes’ filmography and another shining example of why Marion Cotillard is arguably the best actress we have today.