A somewhat contrived scenario undermines the verite punch that usual defines the films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, but otherwise Two Days, One Night registers as another of the brothers’ intimate accounts of economic oppression.
Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, an employee at a Belgian solar-panel company who discovers that her coworkers voted to lay her off so that they could keep their bonuses. She spends the weekend visiting them, one by one, and asking them to reconsider.
As always, the Dardennes (The Kid with a Bike) approach their story by putting humanity in the forefront. “When the others see you, they’ll forget about their bonus,” Sandra’s friend tells her. Indeed, the brothers’ inquisitive camera peers into each coworkers’ face as she confronts them, turning a debate of dollars and cents into one of expressions and eye contact.
Still, it’s a didactic structure for a film. So thankfully, in Cotillard, the Dardennes have a powerhouse performer to anchor it. The supporting characters are essentially the sum of their answers, so it’s up to her to give us the movie’s only fully formed person. (To be fair, Fabrizio Rongione also has some nice moments as Sandra’s husband.)
Cotillard delivers, offering a physically shaken performance that makes Sandra more than a righteous crusader. She also captures the way employment is not only something of economic necessity, but also a form of identity. If some of the plot points struck me as strident – including a tragic act that’s quickly brushed aside – Cotillard ultimately manages to keep the picture on track.