Before Sunday's Academy Awards, take time to see Marion Cotillard's worthily nominated performance in Two Days, One Night, a sliver of working class life from the Dardenne brothers, Belgium's gift to filmmaking.
A common theme for Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is ordinary people in everyday financial straits. It's no different for Cotillard's clinically depressed Sandra, a factory worker who can barely drag herself from bed to learn she's laid off from her job. Worse is why it happens: A foreman pitting co-workers against her, saying their work can be accomplished with one less employee, which would allow them to receive a bonus everyone needs.
Sandra's supportive co-worker Juliette (Catherine Salee) prods her to request an additional, secret ballot, this time without the foreman there to intimidate. If Sandra can convince a majority of the 16 workers to give up the bonus and take her back, she'll be rehired.
Two Days, One Night is how long Sandra has to swing votes her way, visiting each of the 16 to plead her case while remaining sympathetic to theirs. It's a slow process, redundant except that each stop on Sandra's route brings tiny glimpses into diverse blue collar lives. The Dardennes present the full range of compassion, from Juliette's unconditional support to Sandra having doors slammed in her face and appeals to people she believed to be friends being ignored.
Through it all, Sandra struggles to keep herself pulled together, with the support of her patient husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), and with her children always in mind. Two Days, One Night becomes the same sort of examination of depression's grip that Cotillard's Oscar rival Julianne Moore presents of Alzheimer's in Still Alice. Again, not showy or shouting but inhabiting a condition, making even the slightest tics and glances count.
The Dardennes turn over much of the drama to Cotillard's face, letting the camera linger on wordless expressions of Sandra's doubt, hope and shattered spirit. The pacing can be challenging to stateside audiences accustomed to more happening, but that's Euro-cinema. Two Days, One Night is deceptively slight of drama; it's simply a procession of real moments encountered by a simple character deserving more happiness than life allows, fleshed out by an extraordinary actor.
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