Marion Cotillard can pretty much do anything, this much is clear. And while she’s become a well-known face in American cinemas, it’s nice to see her speaking her mother-tongue in the Dardenne brothers drama Two Days, One Night. The film is wonderfully directed, acted, and tells a story of struggle, hard decisions, and moral ambiguity that is layered with emotion and well told.

Sandra (Cotillard) has been out on leave from her job for a little while because she’s been battling depression. Right when she comes back, she discovers that she’s been laid off after her coworkers were forced to choose between Sandra losing her job or getting a very high and much needed pay bonus. After speaking with her supervisor, she’s given one weekend to convince her coworkers to choose to let her have her job back and relinquish their bonus when they are asked to vote again come Monday.

As a film, the concept is very original and very personable in that everyone can understand Sandra’s plight. And at the same time, it’s very easy to understand Sandra’s colleagues. There are tough decisions being made throughout the film and in many ways, it’s morally ambiguous because there is no right or wrong answer. Everyone is looking out for themselves. Technically, it’s also very well done. The camera follows Sandra throughout, and the constant side shots and camera movements allow for a sense of intimacy.

Directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are quick to make this a very human story and to show how no matter where your intentions lie, or how black, white, or gray you think the situation is, humanity’s self-serving characteristics prevail in several ways. But these self-serving characteristics are also overshadowed by guilt, trying to do what you think is right, and by several other underlying emotions.

The Dardennes choose to leave out a score and let the audience find their emotions through Sandra’s journey rather that triggering emotions through music. Some may find this a bit off-putting, but it does work within the scope of the story, even if it sometimes makes it seem a bit slow going. It doesn’t deter from the emotion of the film but instead helps us become more involved with Sandra. Your emotions will be thrown in many different directions. In one instance, you’ll quickly stand behind Sandra and what she’s doing and question how her colleagues could possibly choose to put her out of a job. Other times, you’ll be able to put yourself in the opposite position of receiving a hefty bonus when you really need it and struggling between helping someone else or helping yourself.

Marion Cotillard is a fantastic actress already, and when you see her portray this very complicated character, your respect for her abilities will soar. Cotillard’s character is depressed, has low self-worth, and has to really push herself to essentially beg for her job because her family needs the money. She’s torn between wanting her job back but not wanting to take away the bonuses from her colleagues as well as not wanting to return to work out of pity or sympathy. Cotillard plays Sandra logically and emotionally and her arguments and struggles are sound and powerful.

Fabrizio Rongione as Sandra’s husband Manu is a great supporting character. He knows his wife’s condition, knows the difficult situation they’re in, knows how hard all of this is on her, and yet he is constantly pushing her out of her comfort zone and not wanting her to give up on something he knows she should be fighting for. Rongione and Cotillard compliment each other there’s a lot of wonderful push and pull between them that creates great dramatic tension.

Two Days, One Night is a very layered and very human story. There is a lot going on on a moral and emotional level and the directors and actors handle it very well. There are a lot of questions asked, but not always answered, and this most definitely adds to the morally ambiguous nature of the film, which is outstanding. It really makes you think, question, and wonder what anyone would do in her kind of situation. The idea that this could be anyone makes it very hard to watch at times, but the fact that the Dardennes deal with questionable human actions and don’t stick to keeping it in simple right and wrong terms makes it enormously more appealing. A thoughtful film on many different levels.

Release Date: January 16, 2015 | Directors and Screenwriters: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne | Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salee | Genre: Drama | MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some mature thematic elements

About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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