Oscar winner Marion Cotillard received another nomination for her searing, deeply felt performance as a working-class woman desperate to hold on to her factory job, in this gripping film from master Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Cotillard is Sandra, a wife and mother who suffers from depression and discovers that, while she was home on sick leave, a majority of her coworkers voted in favor of her being fired rather than give up their annual bonuses. She then spends a Saturday and Sunday visiting them each in turn, to try to convince them to change their minds. From this simple premise, the Dardennes render a powerful, humanist drama about the importance of community in an increasingly impersonal world.
After a brief absence from her solar-panel plant job, Sandra (Marion Cotillard) gets word on a Friday afternoon that she needn't return to work on Monday because her fellow co-workers voted 14 out of 16 for the boss to let her go so they could each receive a € 1,000 bonus. Sandra is married and the mother of two young children and they need her salary to keep out of public housing, which her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) refuses to return.
Sandra's friend, Juliette (Catherine Salée), claims that supervisor Jean-Marc (Olivier Gourmet) misled the workers with lies to scare them into voting in favor of the bonus. Both ladies talk with the boss, Mr. Dumont (Batiste Sornin), and he agrees to a revote by secret ballot on Monday morning. This means over the course of the weekend Sandra has to visit her co-workers and convince a majority to forgo their bonus, a journey she is not looking forward to making.
Right from the first encounter, it's clear directors/brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have written a story that has no easy answers or fixes. They do this by making her co-worker's situation just as compelling as Sandra's. While he sympathizes with her position and would being doing the same thing if he were in her situation, his wife has been unemployed for months and they need the bonus for their daughter's schoolings. Many co-workers are in similar situations of needing the money for necessities not luxuries, so it's hard to fault them. And even though some say they will vote for her, there's no guarantee what they'll write on their secret ballot, which creates great tension on at the facility on Monday morning.
The script delivers a great part for a lead actress and Cotillard shines as a woman ranging between strength and breakdown over less than three full days. Little bits of information about Sandra and her life are revealed naturally in exchanges between characters and don’t come across as forced exposition. There is one plot twist Sandra makes that is such an extreme choice it pulled me out of the film and had me curious about the Dardennes' personal lives because it seemed a very uncharacteristic choice for a parent, even one who may have been suffering depression like Sandra.
For those who like to go to the movies for the brief escapism it offers from the daily grind, 'Two Days, One Night' is definitely not the movie for them. However, for those who enjoy the opportunity movies can afford in reflecting on life, the Dardennes have delivered an impressive film about the struggles of the working class.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Two Days, One Night' (#771 in The Criterion Collection) comes on a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a clear keepcase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Included is a folded leaflet containing "Economics Is Emotion," an essay by Girish Shambu.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1. Stated in the leaflet, "The film was shot with an ARRI ALEXA digital camera, and the entire production was completed in a fully digital workflow. Supervised by director of photography Alain Marcoen and directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the final color-corrected DPX files were output to Rec. 709 high-definition color space for Blu-ray and DVD release.”
From the beginning in Sandra's kitchen, the bright whites, seen on the refrigerator, along with the inky blacks of the tile and oven top demonstrate a very strong contrast. This is seen again in a shot that combines the sunny exterior and the darker interior of car Sandra is riding in. Many colors appear in solid hues.
There is very good depth on display in long shots when Sandra is walking around searching for her co-workers. Fine texture details can be seen in clothing and the asphalt. Shadow delineation is also quite good. There's no aliasing, which is a relief because there's plenty of opportunity for it to occur with the number of brick buildings on location and and Sandra’s wicker headboard. What may appear like jitter or shudder is actually the handheld camera, which is very distracting at times.
The audio is available as French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and " was remastered at 24-bit from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tools HD." The track is front heavy with some ambiance, like children playing in a neighborhood, making its way to the rear speakers. The dialogue is clear and only has to contend with effects as the Dardennes made no use of a composer. One song playing on the car radio was intentionally played loudly and it came close to distorting. Bass is minimal, mainly heard when a car drove off quickly.
With superheros all the rage, it's nice that there are people like the Dardennes creating films like 'Two Days, One Night'. The story has a universal familiarity to those experiencing a similar economic situation and also a timeless quality that will allow it to endure. Criterion certainly helps in that effort with a great HD presentation and plenty of material to learn more about the film and its makers. High recommended.