There is a saying that ‘it’s not the story you tell but how you tell it’, and for me, ‘Two Days, One Night’ is a perfect proof of that. There is an extreme simplicity about this story, some could even say that the simplicity is almost skeletal, but the way that the Dardenne brothers have told it (and, really, how Marion Cotillard has told it) is so earnest, so honest and so rich that this simple tale becomes much more; so much more. It’s odd to say that a film that is practically a repetition of scenes with different faces can be so enthralling, but at a brisk 95 minutes, ‘Two Days, One Night’ packs in SO MUCH character development in those repetitions scenes that it remains one of the most effecting films I’ve seen in all of 2014.
The story told centers around Sandra. Sandra has recently suffered from a bout of depression that left her unable to function in life. She took a leave from work, and it’s apparent that her husband has taken most, if not all, of the household duties upon his own shoulders, including taking care of the kids. Finally feeling able to re-enter the world (and reliant on medication for that), Sandra is ready to return to work, only to find out that her workmates have elected to have her fired in order to receive their bonus. Unfortunately, without her income, her family is going to suffer. It’s already a struggle with both her and her husband working full time, and due to her time off they are in dire-straits. With the prodding of her husband and close friends, Sandra decides to fight for her job, despite depression rearing its head again and urging her to just give up. So, in an attempt to save her job and her family, Sandra gets the addresses of all her co-workers and sets out to talk to them all face to face and plead for them to reconsider their vote, giving up their bonuses so she can keep her job.
And so she does…talk to everyone.
For a film that repeats its scenario so much, the depth in Cotillard’s performance (is this even a performance? I mean, it feels like home movies of a real woman) is so alarmingly acute that it keeps us completely glued to her journey. Cotillard is, in a word, incredible here.
Now, I debated bringing up this point, but I feel as though I really need to address it in order to really explain myself and my feeling towards this film. So, for those of you who haven’t seen this, I am going to mention a minor spoiler (although I will NOT mention the outcome of her struggle) so just be forewarned.
This film, for me, became something so incredibly special in the very last seconds, when a simple phrase (here we are with more simplicity) left Sandra’s lips; “I’m happy”. With those words, this film and Sandra’s story become something so rich, so complete. Having lived in a home with a woman experiencing deep depression, I understand how desolate one can feel, how empty and lost and helpless one can feel, even when they are without reason. Sandra, broken to the core, wants to just give up on life, throw her hands in the air and walk away from this situation, her troubles, her struggle and inevitably, her life. But, through the course of her own determination, no matter how forced, she found in herself a sense of self-worth. She found a reason to continue, and so regardless of the outcome, she had found happiness. I tell you, when those words left her lips I broke. Tears were streaming down my face and I was shaking. No two words have had such an incredible impact on me, cinematically, in a very long time.
Within the confines of simplicity, the Dardenne brothers and the marvelous (like, greatest actress of all time) Marion Cotillard have delivered something far from simple; they have delivered absolute truth.