Marion Cotillard could stand on a moving sidewalk and I’d nominate her for an Oscar. I chose to watch Two Days, One Night (or, in its native French, Deux jours, une nuit) solely to see Cotillard, and while she didn’t disappoint, the Dardenne brothers’ film feels like a fantastic short stretched into a full length movie. The premise is simple: Sandra (Cotillard) has been out of work due to an accident and her coworkers just had the opportunity to vote to keep Sandra or gain a bonus. They voted to gain a bonus. When Sandra’s friend Juliette (Catherine Salee) convinces the boss that one coworker swayed the group of sixteen, she’s able to give Sandra another chance– a second ballot will be held on Monday. Sandra’s painstakingly loving husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) convinces her to speak to each coworker individually, ask for his or her vote. Yep– this becomes a 12 Angry Men situation.
Seeing Sandra visit each coworker functions as a fascinating group study. Each of these people works at the same factory and yet (surprise, surprise) lives in very different circumstances. Some are breadwinners, some depend on a spouse, some are overcoming an illness. One looks like Despicable Me‘s Gru and one named Willy (or Willie?) gives the weakest handshakes (though has folks’ addresses memorized in 2014, which must be a fun party trick.) While each scene of confrontation is intriguing to watch, the best moments come in the long, quiet takes. The first that struck me happens early on (pictured above), when Sandra, Manu, and their children work together to find the addresses for each coworker. It’s a subtle showcase of the effort each family member has put in to make Sandra’s life more bearable, consequently bettering his or her own. It’s also early exposure to the fact Sandra’s children are never used against her, or for motivation. They’re simply a part of her life, just as the pain and struggle have become. My favorite second scene is, to me, the most powerful. Manu has picked up Sandra from another attempt to sway votes, and as they drive home a song comes on the radio that he deems too depressing. Manu turns the radio dial down, but Sandra turns the dial back up, making the music louder and louder. The camera stays on Cotillard’s expressions, which beautifully flow from fearful and vulnerable to blissful and victorious. She chooses to face yet another uncomfortable moment, as she has for the past two days and one night, to prove to herself she can.
It’s a movie that, again, could have been a far more powerful short. While it might not be the most entertaining, Night‘s decisions to stick solely to diegetic music, never play Sandra’s children or role as a mother against her, and film each coworker interaction make the final 12 minutes worth it. That, and Cotillard of course.