Two Days One Night

January, 2015, Drama

Hollywood is fundamentally structured to understand movies as a business rather than an art form. Although there are many American examples that clearly deserve what historian Gary Wills describes as our country’s  “truly unique art form”, the overwhelming majority of movies made in this country are inherently commercial. That’s not true of many films made in Europe; often financed by publicly-funded arts budgets common throughout the countries comprising the European Union, many modestly budgeted productions are made for the express purpose of being considered either works of art, or as crucial social documents.

Such could be said of the Dardenne oeuvre, the life’s labor of brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc, who have spent nearly 3 decades writing and directing meticulously observed movies in their native Belgium that focus on the lives of working class people.  From exposes of child labor (La Promise, Son) to an examination of participants in the country’s welfare state (L’Enfant) to reflections on the formation of orphans being raised on state-run youth farms (Kid with aBike) these gifted filmmakers deserve the title of “artist” as surely as America’s legendary documentarian Fred Wiseman.

Gifted French actress Marion Cotillard (Public Enemies, La Vieen Rose, Rust & Bond) plays Sandra, a young working mother who’s job is in jeopardy if she cannot persuade a majority of the 16 men and women who work with her at a small manufacturing company to forgo their annual bonuses. Given a weekend to persuade them before a decisive secret vote the following Monday morning, Two Days follows Sandra as she makes the rounds of her co-workers homes, in the process giving the audience as panoramic a view of Belgian blue-collar workers as Chaucer did in The Canterbury Tales.

Cotillard is outstanding as the vulnerable mother of two whose need for both income and a personal sense of worth require her to hold a full-time job. Deeply embarrassed at being required to impose on her colleagues, Sandra faces all the resistance one would expect under these circumstances and the brilliant script provides an intensely personal dramatization of her interactions with both friend and foe alike. The actress employs delicately expressive facial features and an emotional range which glides from shame to indignation to quiet dignified acceptance of the reasons which those with whom she works dictate her fate. In a brief but emotion packed hour and a half, the brothers Dardenne give audiences an insightful and deeply effective view of the pressures endured by working men and woman whose lives are lived in the shadow of the pink slip.

 The Verdict? A small gem containing an Oscar-nominated leading performance more than worthy of the recognition it’s received.

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