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Two Days, One Night PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
15 09 2014

ImageDirected by Jean Pierre & Luc Dardenne

The Dardennes are well-known for films which present us with people living hard, impoverished lives, plain unglamorised narratives of ordinary life, which nevertheless often lead to some kind of epiphany or disaster. Here Sandra (Marion Cotillard), recovering from depression and about to go back to her job in a solar panel factory, suddenly discovers that she is to be ‘let go'. Finding they can get along fine with 17 workers rather than 18, the boss has held a vote among her colleagues, making them choose between receiving their annual €1000 bonus, and Sandra keeping her job. The bonus won.

Schematic and single minded to the point of being simplistic, for all its naturalistic method it's a straightforward tale of a moral quest, somewhat reminiscent of those westerns where the good honest man seeks to persuade his neighbours to do the right thing and stand by him. We follow the diffident and jittery Sandra on her very reluctant walks around the town in the course of one weekend, making calls, pushing the entrance bells, and knocking on the scuzzy doors of her colleagues, disturbing their weekend lives trying to persuade them to choose a job for her rather than much-needed money for themselves. She discovers that many of them are in fact worse off than she is, several holding down menial extra jobs to make ends meet, immigrants, single mothers, or struggling on one wage for a family. Others just want a new patio. To some families she brings strife, setting father against son, wife against husband. (In the latter case actually bringing about a ‘liberation'.) Egged on by her (somewhat over-saintly) husband she overcomes her doubts about putting her own interests over those of her colleagues, realising that her job is not just the money, though that's important with their own house and a husband in a low paid job himself, but the involvement and feeling of self worth it brings.

Beautifully acted and with a real feel for the gritty streets of suburban life on an unremarkable Saturday, it's not without its faults. The colleagues are rather schematically presented - the most sympathetic are almost exclusively immigrants, and the only baddy is that usual suspect - the foreman. An unfortunate lurch into melodrama which seems immediately all too easily forgotten damages the affecting humdrum tenor of the story (is Sandra, in fact, strong enough to go back to the stresses of normal life?). Viewed as a parable about how the lives of so many today are manipulated by capitalism and way beyond their own control - even the boss has his hands tied by the threat of Asian competition - it's a moving and thought provoking exercise, thoughts that aren't assuaged when the end is neatly tied up with Sandra healed, the respect of her colleagues and the fact she has attained something making her able to move on. The elephant in the room is the never-mentioned missing unionisation, where communal effort would have made this painful individual self-promotion unnecessary. And impressive though Marion Cottillard is here, there's a lack of the subtlety you might expect from a Dardennes film. It seems the characters are dancing to a preset tune, rather than going their own, mysterious, ways.

Seen at Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle, September 2014

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