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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 30, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 05
Lesser Dardenne still a riveting Two Days
Arts & Entertainment
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Lesser Dardenne still a riveting Two Days

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
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After a devastating battle with depression, Sandra (Marion Cotillard) returned to work at her job only to learn she'd been made redundant, her absence proving to the factory owner that his business' monthly quota could be made with one less person on the line. With her dismissal her coworkers will receive a fairly substantial bonus, their supervisor clouding the issue by attempting to convince everyone it's an either-or proposition, and if she were to stay not only would there be no extra money, one of them would have to leave in her place.

This wasn't true, Sandra's best friend Juliette (Catherine Salée) convincing their boss to allow an open vote amongst the factory employees whether or not they would like to keep their bonuses or allow their coworker to keep her job. With a weekend to convince seven of the 12 to vote her way, the mother of two, with the help of her sous chef husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), hits the streets to engage in face-to-face talks with her colleagues in hopes of convincing them to do just that.

The Belgian drama Two Days, One Night fits perfectly inside directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's working class world, the movie making a superb companion to equally austere, straightforward works like L'enfant, Rosetta, The Kid with a Bike and La Promesse. What it doesn't have in common with any of the brothers' previous motion pictures is the presence of a major international star, and while the pair have worked with more than their fair share of familiar faces they've never given center stage to someone like Academy Award-winner Cotillard.

Until now; and do they ever give her a role suited to her immense talents. Sandra is awash in acres of pain and self-doubt yet at the same time she's putting on a brave face giving all she can to rebuild emotionally from the bottom up. Cotillard's performance is a master class in internal duality, the actress subtly transforming from timid dormouse to predatory lioness. Rarely has depression and its after effects been documented so impressively on film outside of a documentary, but considering the Dardenne's fictional oeuvre and background in non-fiction, features like this shouldn't come as a surprise. Still, make no mistake, Cotillard is tremendous, and as she's in virtually every frame, proclaiming this one of 2014's most titanic tour de force performances goes without saying.

She is the movie, however, and while there are some wonderful little moments between her and Rongione, I'm hard-pressed to believe Two Days, One Night would be anything special without her. In more ways than one this does feel like lesser Dardenne, the brothers not saying anything too out of the ordinary or profound as they follow Sandra on her journey. The statements made in regards to modern situations for the working and middle classes, across the globe, not just in Belgium, are hardly prophetic or revelatory, and while they're still bracing and emotionally chilly, I couldn't help but feel as if I'd heard these proclamations from the Dardennes before.

Yet second tier Dardenne is still better than most other filmmakers' best efforts, the level of intimate introspection stunning when everything is taken in total. Sandra's journey is visceral, immediate, proceeding straight from the heart in a way that is timeless. There are no faked emotions, nothing that isn't of the now, everything building to a realization of one's potential for greatness that isn't so much extraordinary as it is quietly cathartic. It's impossible not to feel every blow to the gut, slap to the face, pat on the back and redemptive embrace. It all leads to a final moment with the protagonist that is as euphoric as it is shattering, eventually making Two Days, One Night a startlingly effective drama that's difficult to forget.

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