Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Writers: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Pili Groyne
Producers: Denis Freyd, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Running Time: 99 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
I had the pleasure to review The Dardennes Collection back in 2012, which consisted of 6 of the brothers' most famous films, including their latest from that year, The Kid With the Bike. I hadn't seen any of their work previously so I received a crash course in their brand of no frills yet perfectly balanced filmmaking and fell in love with it. I may not have given every title top marks, but they were of such a high standard I found myself being quite harsh on the slightly less mind-blowing films in the set even though I adored the collection as a whole. So understandably my expectations were very high for Two Days, One Night, the Dardennes brothers' latest film, especially since it's been picking up universal praise amongst critics, many of whom are calling it their best work.
Like most of their other films, the story here is quite simple, in fact this could probably be their most sparse narrative. Basically, Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a young mother with a history of depression, is told that her work colleagues have opted to take a €1,000 bonus rather than keep her on as an employee. Feeling the staff had been pressured into making this decision, Sandra manages to talk her boss into running another vote and she has just the weekend to convince her colleagues one by one that they should give up the money to let her keep her job.
This situation is set up very quickly and there is little else to the narrative, so the film's depth and drive comes from Sandra's delicate hold over her mental state and the solidarity of her husband Manu (Dardennes regular Fabrizio Rongione) who continues to push her on in her 'mission'. Although the film revolves around Sandra trying to get her job back, her relationship with her husband proves equally as important and engrossing as her inner and outer struggle. She doesn't make it easy for Manu, but his solidarity is what keeps her working to gain this amongst her colleagues and the film is really about her finding faith and support amongst others after beginning the film feeling totally alone and rejected.
The literal narrative of Sandra going to each and every employee, asking for their vote, is understandably very repetitive and differences between each scene are subtle. The very nature of this makes you really want to know what will happen, but at the same time it did make me a little restless at points during the film. The Dardennes are wonderfully economic filmmakers, who are very good at creating tension and drama out of seemingly simple situations and turning them into tight, effective narratives, but here I felt it lacked some of the drive found in most their previous films.
In general I didn't feel it quite reached the heights of say Rosetta, The Kid With the Bike or La Promesse. It still has a lot of the qualities of those films though, such as the performances. The Dardennes are great actors' directors, employing rigorous rehearsals to make sure performances are natural and will hold up to their long take technique (scenes are all made up of single shots). So of course Cotillard here is stunning, giving a raw and magnetic performance without ever forcing it. There are no histrionics or showboating, just a captivating balancing act between frailty and strength.
I think the main reason I felt a little disappointed with Two Days, One Night though was that it didn't hit me at that gut level like some of their greatest films did. I found a couple of scenes very touching, such as early on when Sandra hides round a corner to cry as she doesn't want her family to see, but overall I didn't find the film as emotionally powerful as something like Rosetta.
I can't help but feel I'm constantly comparing their latest film to their previous ones, so I imagine those who have yet to see anything from the Dardennes brothers will likely rate the film higher than I have. It is undoubtedly an exceptionally well made film, but for me it was too similar to what has come before without having quite as much impact, so I'm going to have to be a little harsher on it.
(maybe add half a star if you're not familiar with the Dardenne brothers' previous work)
Two Days, One Night is out on Blu-Ray & DVD in the UK on 20th October, released by Artificial Eye. I watched the DVD version and the picture and sound quality were decent.
Included as special features are three interviews, one with the Dardennes and two with Cotillard. The brothers' interview, like their films, is honest, straight to the point and gratifying. Coutillard's longer interview is also worth a listen although she gets a bit gushing towards the end. The second, shorter piece is too similar though and feels like an unnecessary addition.