Two Days, One Night

As its plainspoken title suggests, Two Days, One Night is a simple film.

Without embellishment or ornament, it tells a single human story as it unfurls over one weekend. Despite the scarcity of spectacle, it exerts a powerful narrative grip: any philosophical reflections on the universal and the particular will have to be saved until after the high-tension plot is resolved. 

Sandra has been off work from her job at a solar panel factory during a bout of depression. When her boss asks the staff to choose between keeping Sandra or receiving their bonuses, Sandra has to fight to stay employed.

Over two days and a night, she visits each of her colleagues to try and convince them to vote for her to stay. The clock ticks as the yeses and noes accumulate. For all its unassuming mundanity, this is a thriller.

To survive, Sandra does not need cunning or agility or superpowers, just the dogged determination to go through one difficult conversation after another.

By following these repetitious encounters, we share in her feat of endurance.  

J. Hoberman wrote in his NYRB review, “the ordeal (or the passion) that Sandra endures, and we with her, is not just a suspenseful story, it’s the real subject of the movie.”

The Belgian Dardenne brothers are known for their meticulously constructed realism. Here, they use a cast almost entirely made up of actors local to Seraing, the industrial town where the film is set and in which they were raised.

Marion Cotillard gives a transfixing performance as a woman struggling beneath the dead weights of financial anxiety and depression. 

What could have been schematic film about life on the sharp end of capitalism is transfigured into a deeply human depiction the dehumanising effects of working life.

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