Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published November 2nd 2014
Marion Cotillard at her very best
Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (The Kid with a Bike, L'enfant, The Son, Rosetta) Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salee
Belgian filmmakers the Dardenne brothers continue an impressively consistent streak of being heralded by critics and ignored by the general public with their latest slice of minimalist realism, Two Days One Night. It's as intimate and meticulously crafted as all their other films, with the only difference being this time an international star, Marion Cotillard, is front and centre the focus of the film.
Marion Cotillard as retrenched factory worker Sandra
The Dardennes are catnip to festival-goers, picking up awards wherever their films are submitted, but their no-frills approach to style and subject matter has resulted in their work flying under the radar of mainstream movie audiences. A trend that isn't likely to change here despite the presence of La Cotillard.
The setting is a factory in a small Belgian town with a depressed economy. Things are so dire that when an employee at the factory learns she is about to be laid off, it means certain long-term unemployment. Her only hope is that a majority vote by her colleagues to forego a bonus will save her from being sacked. She has one weekend to plead her case to her co-workers.
Sandra's husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) is a constantly supportive presence
That's the whole film in a nutshell, a construct that at first feels too simple. You fear that watching the process of Sandra (Cotillard) going from one house to another to win the sympathy of each workmate will get repetitive, but the Dardenne's are way too skilful at their craft to let that happen. With each household Sandra visits, her desperation increases, and the individual plights of the other factory workers are taken into consideration.
The result is a deeply humanistic drama, countering self-preservation with compassion and loyalty - very relevant themes today in Europe and equally so in Australia. Both sides of the story are powerfully represented by various co-workers, and Sandra listens to them all with empathy and patience. Like Sandra, you feel the pain of these people, while gripping on to the roller-coaster of hope and despair that her fate rides on.
Sandra's workmates decide her fate.
To cast a star like Cotillard in such a naturalistic slice-of-life drama is a brave move, and speaks volumes of the actor's versatility that she so seamlessly blends in to this milieu of small town factory hands. Everything from her walk and posture to her speech is so far removed from everything she's done before.
There are some nagging problems with the concept of the film. I found myself questioning the legality of some of the employer's actions, but then EU workers' rights isn't my line of expertise. In terms of emotional impact and craftsmanship, Two Days One Night is an absolute winner. Natural performances, nuanced dialogue, unobtrusive directing and perfect narrative structure.
The last five films by the brothers Dardenne have won awards at the Cannes Film Festival. Hopefully one day the general public will discover why their filmmaking peers love them so much.