A woman returns to work after medical leave for depression. While she was away, the company learned that sixteen could do the work of seventeen. In a gutless, heartless solution, the workers vote whether the woman is to be laid off, and they get bonuses, or kept, and they don’t get bonuses. Besides being extremely bad management, that’s the crux of Two Days, One Night.
The woman, played with alternating despair and desperation by Marion Cotillard, gets the boss to schedule a re-vote on Monday morning, a secret ballot. She has the weekend to visit her co-workers, face to face, in an attempt to change their mind. This is so gut-wrenching that at times it’s as difficult to watch as if the audience member were put in her place.
The film was written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who have made other excruciating films to watch (The Child comes to mind). This one even is brutal in its rhythm–every time she visits someone, she repeats the same speech–in another movie, it might be manipulated so she didn’t have to. She then waits for her answer, quivering, realizing she needs to do this all while being totally ashamed.
Each stop gets a variety of responses. Some, knowing what she wants, won’t speak to her. Another man breaks into tears, saying of course he will vote for her, and tells her he was ashamed that he voted against her in the first place. A father and son come to blows over it, while another woman tells her the bonus was going to be used for a patio. That woman ends up coming around, so it was good Cotillard didn’t do what I would have done, and tell her to enjoy her patio while my children starve.
There are a few missteps in an otherwise very good film. Cotillard is constantly popping Xanax, so the overdose that comes is predictable yet quickly glossed over. And why is her husband, Fabrizio Rongione, so supportive but won’t accompany her to the doors of those she wishes to speak to? It reminded me of when I had to sell cookies for Cub Scouts and my parents made me go to the door by myself, but a lot less was at stake then.
But Cotillard, who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance, holds this all together. You can see the pain etched on her face, and every once in a while a smile. As she walks away from the first “yes” vote she gets, her face beams in a kind of way that is just perfect. And the ending, when she is confronted with the same choice, is also perfect.
By the way, I would like to think I could never take a bonus at the expense of another person’s job, especially when it’s someone I know. I hope all my readers feel the same way.
My grade for Two Days, One Night: A-.