There has been almost nothing but praise for the Dardenne Brothers latest film Two Days, One Night. It is their first film to feature a known movie star, Marion Cotillard, who is receiving the bulk of that praise. And while the film is beautiful in its naturalistic style, and in its portrayal of lower working class issues, I’m left scratching my head at the overwhelming amount of love the film is getting. The New York Times’ A.O. Scott called ” Ms. Cotillard’s performance is as fine a piece of screen acting as you will ever see.” While The Dissolve gave the film 4 1/2 stars, and placed it as their #7 best film of 2014. The Dardennes are great, and Cotillard is great, but between the time I saw this film on the festival circuit back in August and now, I haven’t really given it much of a second thought. And that is the major flaw of Two Days, One Night — it’s message is important but it isn’t a powerful enough.
Sandra has a dilemma. She has returned to work after medical leave for depressive symptoms, back to her job at a solar panel factory in the small town of Seriang in French Belgium. Only when she returns she finds that her co-workers have been forced to vote, between their yearly bonus of 1,000 euros or Sandra’s position at the company. The vote comes down 14-2 in favor of the bonuses. Luckily, Sandra convinces her manager to have a re-vote on Monday due to rumors that her supervisor threatened that if Sandra was not laid off, others might be. Sandra now has two days and one night to convince at least half of the 14 opposing votes to switch sides. My issues with Two Days, One Night stem from the way this plot forcefully structures the film into a repetitive series of meetings. Yes, we do get to witness a plethora of character moments as we see the different ways in which Sandra’s co-workers react to her plea for mercy. But the film feels like it settles into a loop, and in that loop Cotillard settles into a fixed groove, giving her very little deviation room from saying and doing the same things over and over.
Cotillard’s performance is being lauded as one of the most understated performances ever given. To me, it felt too understated, almost a non-performance. I think most of Cotillard’s abundant praise has to do with the fact that we have a movie star traversing the slums of the Dardannes Belgium. They seem to have expected this weird idea of glitz and glamour to seep through the lens and deauthenticate Cotillard’s work. I didn’t feel that at all, I never expected Cotillard to be a distraction, I expected her to be exactly what she is in the film: a supremely capable actress. But in a year when she delivered such an outstanding performance in The Immigrant, Two Days, One Night becomes an afterthought to me.
Again, Two Days, One Night is a movie you should without a doubt see as soon as you can. It is full of incredibly human moments, such as a moment where Sandra finds one of her co-workers spending his Saturday coaching a youth soccer team. When he sees Sandra on the sideline he comes over, and in his guilt immediately breaks down and pledges to vote for her regardless, and thanking her for giving him an opportunity to redeem himself. However, the later half of the movie begins to lose these natural human moments in favor of incredibly overwrought story elements, including a comedic timed suicide attempt and strange portrayal of spousal abuse. These moments play very awkwardly on screen, almost in a forced nature that doesn’t jive with the early portions of the film.
As a collection of beautifully captured vignette style meditations on the complexity of human nature, Two Days, One Night is a total success. But in the grand picture of cinema in 2014, I can’t imagine many people seeing this film and considering it among the greatest. Although, each time I read another top 10 list, I’m continually proved wrong.