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With: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salée, Batiste Sornin, Pili Groyne, Simon Caudry, Lara Persain, Alain Eloy, Myriem Akeddiou, Fabienne Sciascia, Anette Niro, Rania Mellouli, Christelle Delbrouck, Timur Magomedgadzhiev, Hassaba Halibi
Written by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some mature thematic elements
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 95
Date: 12/25/2014

Two Days, One Night (2014)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

On the Job

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne return with one of their typically downbeat films, one that's not only urgent, but quite emotionally powerful. Marion Cotillard stars in a very strong performance as a regular woman, Sandra, who works in a Belgian factory that makes solar panels. She suffers from depression and is recovering from a nervous breakdown, during which she took time off from work. To save money, the employees are -- rather cruelly -- given the opportunity to vote between getting an annual bonus or Sandra keeping her job.

On a Friday afternoon, Sandra is informed of the outcome. But since the voting didn't seem fair, the boss agrees to hold a new vote on Monday. She then has the opportunity to speak with each of her co-workers over the weekend and ask them to change their votes. Her husband insists that it's better to do this in person, which is crushingly hard for a woman with Sandra's emotional suffering.

But she tries, and the responses of her co-workers range wildly, and most are totally unexpected. Some readily agree to change their votes. Some weep. Some get angry and strike out. Some are backed into a corner. All of it feels realistic and emotionally truthful. In-between we overhear conversations between Sandra and her husband, suggesting the strain her condition has put on the marriage. At one point Sandra becomes overwhelmed and makes a huge slip backwards, but time ticks away and she must keep going.

At the center of the film is this touching, terrified, heartbreaking character -- a great performance by the Oscar-winning Cotillard -- and her interactions with those she works with. In the background are the awful, inhuman business practices, the way that corporations and businesses callously treat their employees, that put her in this position. Not to mention the threat of unemployment, which is far worse today than ever before (it's not uncommon for folks to be out of work for years, rather than months).

The Dardennes (The Son, L'Enfant, The Kid with the Bike, etc.) usually aren't out to have fun in their movies, but they are absolutely superb at exploring the darker parts of human nature and the constant, moving struggle to overcome it. Their patient, calm direction captures long moments without flourish or fear. Two Days, One Night ranks among their finer works.

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