REVIEW: “Two Days, One Night”

TWO POSTERI 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.

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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.

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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.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

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36 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Two Days, One Night”

  1. I knew you’d love just because Marion starred in it. She is as you say, natural and always brings an intensity, an authentic portrayal. Looking forward to watching it soon. Nice review, Keith 🙂

  2. I’m keen to see this, I missed it last year; I like Cotillard a lot and it sounds excellent. And I still need to see The Immigrant, too, which I know you liked.
    I understand why she’d do something like Inception or the Batman films – big profile boosters, interesting director, well-executed blockbusters and probably amazing experiences – but she shouldn’t be playing second fiddle to anyone and the parts in those movies don’t do her justice, even though she is good in them.

    I read she has signed up to Assassin’s Creed with Fassbender, so maybe that’ll buck the trend and put her front and centre. Maybe not. I had a few problems with La Vie En Rose but she was great in that, and really enjoyed her in The Immigrant; basically my point is I’d like her to be the lead more and a supporting actress less. 3 leading roles to every 1 supporting role at least!

    • This finally opened in my area and ran for two weeks. I was growing frustrated with anticipation. I doesn’t disappoint.

      I agree with what you’re saying. She has the talent to carry any film and I still feel (even with an Oscar) that she is underappreciated. I did love her in Inception and DKR and I loved those films. As you mention, it may be she liked working with Nolan. Wouldn’t it be great if he wrote and directed a film with her as his lead ?

      • It would! I guess Anne Hathaway has had some fairly big parts from him and she’s another who I think should be trusted. But I guess there’s a lack of those sizeable roles. Anyway – I will get hold of this at some point!

  3. A great performance from Cotillard and even the whole cast are excellently drawn. The Dardenne brothers always make sure there are no gaps in the acting.

    The film’s sub-text is also worth noting: how people in employment are driven to put their own interests before those of others because of strained economic reasons and ersonal finances. I think in an interview with the brothers they said it was the first time they’d taken on a subject like this. (I need to watch the interview again.)

    Chris

    • Great point and thanks for taking the time to comment. That sub- text is absolutely there and the hardships do come through as authentic even for some willingly to give up their bonus. You get the sense that most of her coworkers wrestle with her plight and the reality of their personal situations. Great point!

  4. Nice review Keith. Glad you finally got to see this. Know you have been wanting t get to it for a while. Cotillard is unmatched at the moment in my book. Her portrayal of depression in this film just hit home so hard for me. Really breathtaking stuff. Not an easy watch, but I’m really glad I sat through it once.

    • Sooo glad I finally saw it. You’re so right. I too think she is unmatched. Here performance is hard hitting and brutally genuine. One of her best and that is saying a lot.

    • Oh you have to! It’s so good and any fan of hers will have their feelings reenforced. She absolutely shines. When you get a chance to see it let me know whatcha think.

    • Absolutely brilliant bro. Cotillard doesn’t miss a beat. Beautiful performance yet brutally real. You really need to check it out.

      By the way, Monday I posted my February BlindSpot review. It’s a little more Fellini. 😉

      • Just came by that Fellini post in my emails, man. Playing catchup at the moment after taking a break again. I’ll pop by again later.

        As for Cotillard, she always superb. Just caught up with Rust & Bone last week and I absolutely loved it (and her).

      • Rust and Bone was another example of her tackling and intensely challenging role. I love how she gravitates towards roles that require so much from her.

  5. Can’t wait to see this one Keith! I love what you said about ‘losing yourself in great performances’ and this sounds like one this one delivered (or I should say Marion delivered), the premise sure sounds intriguing and requires a talented actress to pull it off!

  6. Great read mate. I saw this at the cinemas last year and was blown away. The lack of a soundtrack really puts you into the picture too.

    And I’m with you 100% on Cottilard. To think, six months ago I hadn’t heard of her at all!! Then I saw The Immigrant…. then this. Wow, I don’t know which one she was better in!!

    Have you seen The Immigrant Keith?? Has Joaquin Phoenix in it too, well worth a watch. James Gray film from last year

    • Huge fan of The Immigrant. In fact her performance in it was my favorite Lead Actress performance from last year. Now I have seen this and she has my Top 2 Lead Actress performances from last year. She’s amazing.

      Definitely can give you some more Cotillard recommendations. You really must see La Vie en Rose, her Oscar-winning performance playing Edith Piaf. Talk about amazing work. And there is Rust and Bone featuring a performance that may be her most demanding work.
      She has some really good supporting work in films like Inception (haunting performance), Midnight in Paris (simply delightful), and in a really good French ensemble picture titles Little White Lies. She also stars in a film called The Last Flight. The film has some issues but she is great!

  7. Great movie, and Cotllard is phenomenal throughout. I love how the movie doesn’t judge; each person has a valid reason for needing the money, and the writers and actors are able to convey that beautifully. Simple story that covers a wide spectrum of humanity.

    • I love your last sentence. That’s such a perfect description. Cotillard absolutely shines. Once again she tackles a conflicted and layered character. Great performance.

  8. Nice review – glad you liked this. Two Days, One Night is a troubling question about our lives and a remarkable portrait of mental illness, morality and greed. Marion Cotillard is extraordinary in the central role, allowing the tale of present distress to take shape around her.

    • She was fantastic. It’s a role that she enjoys because it asks a lot of her. That’s one of the reasons she’s a favorite of mine, she tackles complex roles and usually knocks them out of the park.

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