The end of Sandra’s (Marion Cotillard) journey does not matter, it is the journey that does. And though that sounds entirely conventional, even cliché, it might be the brilliance of Belgian auteurs Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne; their ability to get away with plot points that would seem at home in the most Hollywood, middlebrow fare comes off as resonant, enthralling, and emotionally realistic. Thus, in Two Days, One Night, the Dardennes prove their relevancy and potency as directors once again.
But let’s not give all the credit to them: Cotillard is frankly mesmerizing as Sandra, a woman who must go from co-worker to co-worker to convince them to vote in her favor so that she can keep the job that she needs in order for her family to make ends meet. As an actor, Cotillard has proven herself very strong making English-language films, but she is a force to be reckoned with in her original tongue. Though her character is filled with it, Cotillard’s performance is fearless, tapping into facets of her skillset that haven’t been properly displayed before. Nothing feels overwrought, everything she does feels real. The pain she endures, the anxiety she suffers from, and the shame she experiences all become incredibly palpable for the audience. Each step she takes has infinite weight to it; the words she chooses and how she articulates them has meaning to her and to the audience. Watching Cotillard act on-screen is an indescribable experience, as if you are living with her, following her around as she goes from place to place. Her emotions because the audiences, and though the details of her life are mostly unknown, the intimacy between audience and character is incredibly close.
The Dardennes take pleasure in long takes, with whole conversations lasting a single take. It’s perhaps surprising how effective this method is: better felt is that sense of urgency from Sandra, whose life, it seems, is hanging by a thread, that thread being her up-in-the-air job situation. Though that urgency is there, the film never feels rushed or manic. It is as dutifully patient with its subjects as the people around Sandra are to her. Like the steps she takes, the camera follows her with a goal and with heft. It trails her, making the audience her shadow. Nearly every frame captured by cinematographer Alain Marcoen is sun drenched, a thing of beauty.
The Dardennes are well known for their observances of the lower and working class people, in a somewhat Dickensian way, with Two Days, One Night following that trend. It’s an emotionally wrought film, hitting the right chords every time. The Dardennes don’t bother to subvert the aforementioned Hollywood-esque tropes: they just make them more honest. And, depending on whom you ask, you might say that film is truth at 24 frames per second.
– Kyle Turner