Two Days, One Night / Deux Jours, Une Nuit (2014)
Dirs: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Academy Award Nomination: Leading Actress.
There are far too many films called ‘Le Weekend’ so ‘Deux Jours, Une Nuit’ is a much better title as this deserves to stand out.
Sandra (Marion Cotillard) has been on leave from her job at a solar panel manufacturer for health reasons, but just as she’s nearly ready to return to work, her colleagues are given the choice of each receiving their bonuses or Sandra keeping her job and they vote for the money, effectively firing her. Granted a fresh vote first thing Monday morning, Sandra just has the weekend to speak to each of them in a desperate attempt to turn the odds in her favour.
From the very start the film is clever in not immediately explaining what’s going on, we’re thrown into a sense of confusion as she is, both about the situation with her job, and especially her health. Sandra is told the bad news over the phone, and we only hear her responses, so for a few minutes wonder what has happened. There are also references made to her health being the reason for being on leave, but though signs of it are shown there’s quite a while before it’s explicitly stated to be depression. All of this has the effect of causing the audience to concentrate on Sandra and her life as the details become apparent, drawing us in straight away to her situation.
Sandra’s met with different responses by each of her colleagues, some are quite extreme and unexpected, and all have their own reasons (or excuses) for voting as they did. Most of the reasons given are financial, clearly pointing the finger at the effects of the recession, and with most of them we meet their families at the door, and even see them working at extra jobs which serves to add empathy. However, no matter how much they’re all struggling and in need of the bonus, the films strong focus on Sandra highlights just how hypocritical it is for them all to choose their own financial well-being over hers, as Sandra and her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) are in need of the money too.
The quest for votes in her favour develops at a steady pace throughout, moving from one colleague to another with some interludes at home and with her family. The details of the situation also keep developing, especially as they keep mentioning foreman Jean-Marc who apparently intimidates the others and is stated as the main reason for the vote going as it did. We don’t actually meet him until near the end, and then some extra confusion is added as to whether he was really the issue. The film also takes a turn in the final third, with quite a shocking development that heightens the understanding of how much Sandra is struggling, it’s very powerful to watch.
Interestingly, not nominated in the foreign language film category at the Oscars (though it is at the BAFTAs), this has gained the one Academy Award nomination for ‘Best Actress in a Leading Role’. Marion Cotillard has previously won in that category for ‘La Vie en Rose’ back in 2008. It’s very appropriate that she’s commended for her leading role as the film really does completely revolve around her and the powerful performance. There are many extended shots of her, for example on the phone when we are only getting her side of the conversation, and the camera doesn’t cut away or change angles its just one shot of her completely focused on the character being conveyed. This is a distinctive feature of the Dardenne’s simple, uncomplicated style of film-making. There’s very little to distract from the story and performances, the only music featured in the whole film is a couple of times where the radio is on, there’s no other score or non-diegetic music, even for the end credits.
This beautifully simple style of film-making puts all the focus on the powerful story and excellent central performance, so the story and themes are conveyed clearly and effectively. Ultimately it’s a powerful film about depression, both financial and medical, and how that manifests itself. Beyond that there’s a deeper examination of selfishness winning over altruism. It’s not the most joyous of films at times but it is masterful and not over-long, so may have a long-lasting impact.