By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2014--TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT  Send This Review to a Friend

The superb Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have made a striking new film with a deep social conscience, but thriving on drama, not polemics. “Two Days, One Night” is energized by the award-caliber performance of French star Marion Cotillard. Shown at the 2014 New York Film Festival, “Two Days, One Night,” due for a commercial release in December, is definitely one of the best films of the year.

The drama is a stark example of how a managerial firm divides workers by pitting individual interests against one another. The 16 employees at this particular small firm are due for bonuses of 1000 Euros each. But there is a hitch. Management wants to cut a 17th employee, Sandra (Cotillard), who has been ill with depression and is due to return to work. If she isn’t let go, the other workers do not get their bonuses. The 16 workers have taken a vote, and the decision was clearly in favor of getting their money at Sandra’s expense, especially after the team leader prejudiced the group against her.

Sandra needs her job, but the others have been counting on their bonuses. With the aid of a two sympathetic colleagues and her husband, Sandra sets out to spend the weekend calling on co-workers to try to get them to change their vote after a concession is won for balloting again Monday morning. It is a harrowing ordeal for her, and under the strain she comes close to giving up.

In addition to her heart-rending performance, the strength of the film, written by the co-directors, lies in the portraits we get of the assorted workers whom Sandra visits. Some are well-fixed, others need the money. Some are hostile, some sympathetic. But a bonus is a bonus. Sandra is a person of principle, and as badly as she needs work in a tight labor market, it goes against the grain for her to plead or to succeed at the expense of others. Yet she bravely presses ahead.

Little by little she gathers support, but it is questionable whether she can reach the needed majority of nine. Thus the film is steeped in suspense as well as in the incisive look at those Sandra must visit.

This is a very human drama, especially given the terrific performance by Cotillard. The supporting cast members are excellent too, including Fabrizio Rongione, Pili Groyne and Simon Caudry. As those familiar with other Dardenne films know, the brothers are expert at creating poingant, realistic, understated drama. “Two Days, One Night” is solidly in this tradition, and one comes away with deepened understanding of needs and relationships, and the way in which such needs can be cruelly juxtaposed. A Sundance Selects release. Reviewed October 13, 2014.


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