The Dardenne brothers have always been known for a very hard approach with the social realism that they tackle in their films and Two Days, One Night is no exception. While I would not call it one of my favourite films of theirs, what I can also go on to say is that it also has one of the best performances which the two of them have been able to acquire out of any of their films and that performance which I speak of is none other than that of the always wonderful Marion Cotillard. What also took me from a second viewing of Two Days, One Night was how it also felt so much more heartbreaking on another go, but all in all, it’s another Dardenne brothers film in the best sense of the word – it’s all as real as they keep it.
Just as expected of a Dardenne brothers film, the stories which they tell target social issues that run in our world. Marion Cotillard’s Sandra is a woman who works in a solar-panel factory, forced to take time off after a nervous breakdown while on the job. This puts her job at risk, however, as colleagues begin to fill in her own shift by taking longer work hours. It is not especially unfamiliar territory to be seen from the Dardenne brothers knowing how they experiment with social realism in their work, but regardless there’s a reason that their work has remained so thoroughly compelling over the years: it is because they always play with a style that almost resembles that of a documentary in some sense, so that the events that we are watching grab us more.
What took me upon a revisit of Two Days, One Night was that it was also much more heartbreaking when I came back to it this time around. The Dardenne brothers have kept themselves consistent when it comes to how they reach at a viewer’s emotions, for they are not interested in distracting those who are watching with a small element that could dictate how one should feel when watching. As noted earlier, we are merely watching events unfold on the screen in the same manner that any ordinary person would be watching these events unfold right at the scene and thus every note hits perfectly. Even in their weakest films, the resonance that hits from the genuine nature of the Dardenne brothers’ style is incredible and Two Days, One Night is yet another example of this case. They handle sensitive topics in a mature, unsentimental manner, and evoke the response they seek.
Though I certainly have high admiration for the intense realism that the Dardenne brothers utilize once again in Two Days, One Night, one gripe still comes to mind – it occasionally comes off as a repetitive piece. I won’t completely fault it on this aspect, because life can be rather repetitive and the Dardennes catch it so perfectly, but sometimes, I just wish that they could explore much more with the topic which they are approaching. We understand already that Sandra is at the brink of losing her job because of a nervous breakdown, but I feel as if I would have appreciated a sense of exploration for her psychology. Don’t get me wrong, because while it still runs, Two Days, One Night is as excellent as ever, but I feel like it could reach the heights of a masterpiece if only it didn’t play off to the occasionally repetitive manner that can be felt in here.
Marion Cotillard, however, is a definite spotlight stealer as Sandra – arguably the actress’s best onscreen performance to date. I’ve never seen another performance from her that ever had felt nearly as broken, damaged, and so human on all counts. It is not unexpected of Marion Cotillard to receive a performance that achieves greatness even in her weaker films, but to find something like what she leaves in Two Days, One Night is out of the ordinary – for it also goes down as one of the best leading female performances of the decade thus far. Whether you observe such a role from how the Dardennes frame every last moment or the pain which she is suffering, it is easy to feel because of the charm which defines their work: how genuine they are. As a pained character, Cotillard herself is placed within such emotional ups and downs, and within no time we have something all the more phenomenal.
If I were still to say that Two Days, One Night falls on the lower end of the spectrum of the Dardenne brothers’ body of work for myself, it would also be a statement that reaffirms what I love about their work. Whether it be the stark realism of their approach to such important social topics that are still relevant in this day and age or just how we are watching events unfold like we are also within the scenes themselves, Two Days, One Night carries all of their best qualities, even if qualms may be present within the work. It may be repetitive, but maybe that is the course of life, repeating the same pains upon oneself and leaving you trapped inside of one circle, maybe never letting go.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Sundance Selects.
Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Screenplay by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Produced by Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Denis Freyd
Starring Marion Cotillard
Release Year: 2014
Running Time: 95 minutes