Film Review: Two Days, One Night

[Warning: potential spoilers]

I’m biased. Anything with Marion Cotillard in it immediately raises the film a notch in my critical eye. But this independent, local-centric Belgian movie is truly a rare display of excellent acting and the delicate treatment of employment post-depression.

Marion Cotillard is Sandra, a mom of two trying to get back to work after a nervous breakdown and an extended leave of absence. Her boss is making her co-workers choose via a poll between receiving a EUR1000 bonus each, or having her fired.  14 out of 16 of her co-workers express they want their bonuses in an initial vote, but Sandra has a weekend (thus the title) to convince them otherwise before a final poll on Monday morning.

The topic is singly focused, but the material surprisingly abundant. One woman, going door to door to her colleagues to speak with them about her readiness to work, and her desire to stay employed. There’s the awkward tension of someone confronting another who had just abandoned them.

Not a lot goes on geographically in this film – we stay in close quarters within the small industrial Belgium town Sandra works and lives in; but Sandra’s emotional journey is rich and convincing.

In her depressed state Sandra takes Zanax way too often than the doctor advises. She has crying spells and would much rather curl up in bed than face the world. You see a woman struggling to keep afloat, at times annoyingly weak and self-hating, and you question whether she’s really up for the task of resuming her work duties. In wrestling her own demons along with the unwavering support from a loving husband she summons the energy to knock door to door, speak with colleagues who had voted against her and fight for her right to stay. You see her elevated spirit with every yes, and defeated sense of self with every no. Meanwhile, you experience a delightful sample of human nature through the responses of her colleagues: the mean-spirited, the generous, the struggling, the avoiding, the guilty, and the loyal ones.

The characters are not painted black and white. There are plenty of people who stand by their choice of a thousand Euros over the livelihood of Sandra for seemingly practical and need-based reasons, while juggling their desire to help Sandra based on their shared history. Everyone appears to be struggling financially. Then there are those who vote based on fear, as we know there is a rival colleague in the background who is influencing everyone to rally up against Sandra because of a reason unknown.

I think this is one of the best portrayals of depression and the accompanying struggles since Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. It’s a slow film, but one worth watching even if only for Marion Cotillard’s mastery of her art.

In French and Arabic.

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