Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard and Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salée
Whatever your cinematic sensibilities, it is more than probable that you have seen Marion Cotillard in a major motion picture over the past few years. Her most high profile supporting roles include performances in Public Enemies (2009), Contagion (2011) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). The Parisian actress’ Hollywood career has steadily flourished since she first appeared in Tim Burton’s 2003 film Big Fish. However, her greatest achievement in international cinema was her performance as Édith Piaf in La Vie en Rose (2007), which won her numerous best actress accolades – including the Academy Award.
Clearly then, Cotillard is still at the beating heart of France’s film industry, as well as now being a high profile international star. Her most recent release wholeheartedly supports this notion.
In Jean-Piere and Luc Dardenne’s Two Days, One Night, Marion Cotillard portrays Sandra, a wife and mother of two who is recovering from a severe bout of depression. Her attempts to regain stability take a severe blow when she is told that her colleagues have voted for her to be sacked, rather than to lose their bonuses. Although this news precipitates a regression for Sandra, aided by her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) and colleague Juliette (Catherine Salée), she sets about convincing her co-workers to change their minds before a second vote on Monday.
Although a very simple plot, the Dardenne brothers have managed to create a film that is not only engaging, but more importantly thought provoking. Two Days, One Night is not merely about a woman struggling to keep her job; it is a film that depicts the consequences of economic instability at a very personal, honest, and understandable level. Through Sandra’s struggle, both with her colleagues and her crippling ennui, we are asked to consider whether helping others is more important than helping ourselves, and whether it is better to struggle in the face of injustice or to give up.
It is surely impossible to watch Two Days, One Night without considering what you would do in the same situation, whether in Sandra’s position or in that of her peers. Yet, the film continually highlights the difficulty of making the right decision in this sort of situation. In a particularly moving scene, we see one of Sandra’s colleagues break down in tears of guilt at their initial decision to vote against her – proclaiming that they are relieved to have been given the opportunity to make a selfless decision the second time around.
It is interesting that the film plays on this dialectical struggle between community responsibility and selfish desires at a time when France’s faith in socialism appears to have been misplaced. The Dardenne brothers recently commented that their desire was for the audience to empathise with both Sandra and her colleagues. This intention to make the story, and its characters, relatable, places a great deal of responsibility onto the actors involved. With dialogue that is far from complex and at times quite repetitive, the real reason for this film’s success is the quality of the performances – particularly Cotillard’s.
Rather than portraying a weak and feeble female, who cannot deal with the obstacles life throws at her, Sandra becomes a fully rounded character who feels as honest and real as possible. Here, Cotillard is a million miles away from the majestic Hollywood star that we are used to. Instead, she cuts a very gaunt figure, with dark sunken eyes and a very modest wardrobe. Perfectly balancing frailty with inner strength, we see Sandra pick herself up (literally, at points) and battle through the varying reactions and responses of her colleagues in a rather demure Gallic fashion.
Marion Cotillard is ably supported by Fabrizio Rongione’s performance as Manu. Although it initially appears that his encouragement is the only reason Sandra keeps going, as the film continues Manu develops into a strong, supportive and sincere character who deals with his wife’s struggles in the most selfless way possible.
In summation, Two Days, One Night is an engaging and moving drama that depicts the struggles of ordinary people in a relatable way. With strong performances from its key players, the film deals with real life situations sensitively – neither patronising nor trying to titillate its audience. It is a fabulous French film that can only really be improved by seeing it at Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds quaintest and most consistent cinema for avid film fans.
Two Days One Night is showing at Hyde Park Picture House until August 28th. Book your tickets HERE