Give up your 1000 euro bonus to save someone else’s job? Would you? This is what Sandra (Marion Cotillard) must ask of her fellow workers in the film Two Days , One Night, after their boss decides the company can manage without her just as she’s due to return from sick leave. Would you even ask this of your colleagues? What turns this deceptively simple idea into a gripping drama is that it demands that you, the viewer, take a position as well.
In her absence, fourteen out of sixteen of Sandra’s colleagues voted to keep their bonus rather than save her job, and when her boss agrees to allow a new vote, she has one weekend – the two days, one night of the title – to change their minds. Sandra’s terrified of taking a stand – not only does she feel like a beggar pleading for her job, she knows it’s a choice her colleagues should never have to make. And she knows exactly what she’s asking them to give up.
As she goes to see them one by one you see what 1000 euros would mean to each of their families. It would pay the gas and electricity for a year; it would mean a child could go to university. These are people the politicians would call ‘hard-working families’, struggling to make ends meet. Most want to help but feel they can’t, and the difficulty of making a choice that pits principle, necessity and solidarity against each other is etched in their faces. It turns father against son, husband against wife, and worker against worker. Their dilemma is matched by Sandra’s own, and every quiver in Cotillard’s face betrays the desperation, embarrassment and humiliation she feels about asking them. Oscar-winner Cotillard is quite brilliant as Marion. The rest of the cast, including her supportive husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongion) are equally convincing as ordinary working class people. There are no stereotypes, or clichés or patronising caricatures.
The Dardenne brothers’ social realist drama is a story of modern times, about powerlessness and the sacrifices involved in taking a stand. It’s one that won’t be unfamiliar to many in its cinema audiences. But it’s also an uplifting film, with an ending that is clever and genuinely unexpected. It really is one of Arthouse’s ‘can’t miss’ films.