Let me be clear to all of you with serious allergies to European art films: Two Days, One Night — one of the best ones, by the way — is in French with English subtitles. Its Oscar-winning star, Marion Cotillard, is indeed a hottie. But the Belgian filmmaking brothers, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, aren’t interested in that. For all of Two Days, One Night, the brothers have Cotillard going from door to door trying to get her job back. Yes, that’s the plot. No sex, no chases, no cyberterrorism. Just people interacting.
Now that I’ve scared off the pussies, let me continue: Cotillard plays Sandra, the wife of Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), a kitchen worker, and the mother of their two kids. Sandra is a worker bee, proud of having landed and kept her job at a solar-panel factory. Now, on Friday, she’s learned that her job will be eliminated. The company foreman (Olivier Gourmet), eager to dump Sandra after a recent bout of depression kept her at home, put the question to Sandra’s 16 co-workers: Either eliminate Sandra’s job or lose their annual 1000 euro bonuses. On a secret-ballot vote of 14 to two, she was ousted. In desperation, she orchestrates a weekend plan to win another seven votes and regain her job by Monday morning.
That’s the movie. Sandra pleading, with the camera on her tail like a Dardennes drone. Astonishingly, it all works. From the theme of global downsizing, the filmmakers wring humor, heartbreak, suspense and stirring social drama. Cotillard, a consummate actress, fits like a natural into the workaday world of the Dardennes (Rosetta, The Son, The Kid With a Bike). Whether her character is popping Xanax, entreating co-workers whose problems dwarf her own, or sitting in a car listening to rock, Cotillard is magnificent, her luminous eyes reflecting a soul in crisis. The Dardennes have been creating major cinematic miracles out of minute details since La Promesse in 1996, and this film ranks with their finest. Two Days, One Night is a film for its time, bristling with peril and alive to every flicker of human decency.