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Two Days, One Night - Film Review

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by Katie Fisher (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living and studying in Sydney
Published September 29th 2014
4 out of 5 stars

The Dardenne brothers take viewers on a raw and emotional roller coaster in their latest film "Two Days, One Night", which won the Sydney Film Prize at the 2014 Sydney Film Festival. It is a moving piece that depicts the hardship of Sandra (Marion Cottilard), a wife and mother of two, who is being laid off from a solar panel company in her local town in Belgium. After fighting off a bout of mental illness, she returns to find that her position at the factory has been made redundant by a vote amongst employees. Despite this, she manages to obtain a 'secret ballot' that will commence in "Two Days, One Night". The only problem is that her 16 co-workers have been forced to choose between Sandra and a €1,000 bonus. Unable to support her family on the dole, and potentially unable to keep herself from falling apart, Sandra must fight for her job by visiting each of her co-workers individually to convince them to vote for her.

Two Days One Night, Marion Cottilard, French film
Marion Cottilard as Sandra in 'Two Days, One Night'

Unfortunately for Sandra, many of her co-workers need the money to support their own families. This is the first of many 'real life' reminders: Humans are inherently egocentric. The audience is biased in their support for Sandra for she is the main protagonist - we are living the film through her eyes. And every refusal becomes a personal rebuff. But, had one of the co-workers been the centrepiece of film, would we have felt differently? We do not resent the other characters so much as we are frustrated by them for having their own predicaments.

Sandra is blessed by the support of her loving husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione). He is the rock that guides and motivates her throughout the film. Sandra is mentally and physically drained but is able to draw strength from Manu. Without him, it is unlikely that Sandra would have fought at all. "I do not exist", she tells him in one scene, highlighting her lack of self-worth. The Dardenne brothers show us that Sandra, like many of us, fight several battles simultaneously. She is not only fighting for her job but she is also fighting against herself...and the box of Xanax pills in her bathroom cupboard. And, as Sandra witnesses conflict amongst her co-workers, she questions her right to be the cause of so much unhappiness. The question of her worth is a resounding feature throughout the film.

Two Days One Night, Marion Cottilard, film review
Rongione and Cottilard as Manu and Sandra, in 'Two Days, One Night'

Cottilard captures Sandra's character brilliantly. She presents as bedraggled and beaten, nervously collapsing into breakdowns periodically throughout the film. She has been ground down to reveal a shell of the woman we know she once was, with various hints to her prior happiness (namely the car scene where she and husband Manu sing to a rock song). Rongione, similarly, performs brilliantly in his part as doting husband. We know that he struggles with the situation just as much as Sandra, but he maintains a very artful composure. He is able to react to their problems in a rational way and deals with Sandra very effectively. He is the glue holding the family, and the film, together.

Two Days One Night, Marion Cottilard, film review
Sandra and her co-workers, in 'Two Days, One Night'

Overall, "Two Days, One Night" brings a relatable and confronting tale of true struggle. This is no fairy tale but the very raw reality of the working class. It is simple but elegant, and sends a powerful message. And that message is this: we are all struggling.

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