Two Days, One Night

(2014) *** 1/2 Pg-13
95 min. IFC Films. Director: Luc Dardenne. Cast: Catherine Salée, Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Pili Groyne.


The international film market being what it is these days, we've become accustomed to big budgets or high-concept hooks or star-laden ensembles designed to ensure box office returns. So it's both refreshing and a little stunning to move through Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Two Days, One Night, which features a bona fide star in Marion Cotillard but is defiantly minimalist in its plot and physical scale.

Cotillard plays Sandra, a Belgian woman reeling from a nervous breakdown and subsequent firing from her job at a solar-panel factory. Cradled uneasily by her fretting family (including Fabrizio Rongione as husband Manu), Sandra reluctantly accepts the suggestion that she should power past intense depression and fight for her job. Partly, it's a matter of sheer desperation, her income being crucial to her family, and partly, it's a matter of principle: having taken an unsympathetic view of her medical crisis, her employers laid her off and boosted her peers' pay to absorb her workload. Because they also arguably circumvented due process, Sandra gets a two-day, one-night reprieve: a weekend to go around town visiting her coworkers in an attempt to convince them to vote to retain Sandra. But a vote for Sandra also means forfeiting a thousand-euro bonus her financially pinched fellow workers are hard-pressed to refuse.

And so Sandra makes the rounds of her coworkers, one by one testing each one's loyalty and sense of righteousness, pitted against the instinct of self-preservation in financially desperate times. The question Sandra must pose, over and over, is no easier to answer than it is for her to ask, and while the plot is by design entirely repetitive, each encounter reveals a new and entirely nuanced dynamic informed by the character Sandra engages. The instantly dismissive and supportive are few, the agonized are many, recalling the crux of another French-language film, Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game: “The awful thing about life is this: Everyone has his reasons.”

The Dardenne brothers (The Kid with a Bike) are after similar game, but with their usual deeply felt humanism. Finding the universal in the specific, Two Days, One Night projects that eternal question of how we approach our fellow woman and man in need. Do we look out for number one (and two or more, in our own families), when sacrifice could make meaningful change in the lives of others? Or can we find it within ourselves to embrace true selflessness? Wouldn't it be a better world if we did?
Turning a philosophical question into drama, workplace ethics into moral fable, is delicate work, and the Dardennes once again prove they're up to the task of creating wrenching drama that avoids melodrama. Above all, Cotillard's heartbreakingly raw work carries the day, as she fleshes out both Sandra's suffering and emotional endurance on a journey of discovery that the latter, not the former, defines her.

Share/bookmark: Digg Facebook Fark Furl Google Bookmarks Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo! My Web Permalink Permalink

Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French

Street date: 8/25/2015

Distributor: Criterion Collection

Criterion gives Two Days, One Night its domestic Blu-ray debut in a fully-stocked special edition. A/V specs are exemplary, starting with a digital-to-digital transfer that doesn't miss a trick. Clean, clear, and crisp, the image delivers stability of framing, black level and contrast, with lovely true hues completing the picture. Likewise, there can be no complaints about the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French soundtrack, which is playing with more than enough power for the humble, dialogue-centric mix, which distributes a bit ofsubtle ambience to surround channels.

Criterion's battery of bonus features yet again impresses. Though the disc includes no audio commentary or deleted scenes, they seem extraneous to the video-based content provided. The Criterion-exclusive interview "Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne" (51:04, HD), recorded in April 2015, is nearly feature-length in its breadth and depth in discussing the origins of the film, the thinking behind its social and personal themes, work with the actors, and the production in general.

"Marion Cotillard and Fabrizio Rongione" (22:19, HD) combines two interviews, conducted in early 2015, with the stars who portray the central married couple.

The unusual, if not unique, feature "On Location" (36:47, HD) takes the Dardennes back to four of their locations for the film so they can explain their production approaches and techniques.

The Dardennes' 1979 documentary "When Léon M.'s Boat Went Down the Meuse for the First Time" (38:18, HD) deals with Belgium's general strike of 1960, apropos of the working-class theme of Two Days, One Night.

In the Criterion-conducted 2015 interview "The Dardennes on 'Léon M.'s Boat'" (20:44, HD), the directors discuss the film and their other documentary work.

"To Be an I" (8:32, HD) is a video essay by film critic Kent Jones, and rounding out the disc is the film's domestic "Trailer" (1:53, HD).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

Share this review:
Share/bookmark: Digg Facebook Fark Furl Google Bookmarks Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo! My Web Permalink Permalink
Sponsored Links