Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, Une Nuit)


I adore foreign films and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Belgian-French drama Two Days, One Night is yet another example of why I fervently suck on the teat of international cinema like a greedy little piglet. The brilliant and dazzling Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a down-and-out mother of two desperate to keep her job at a small Belgian factory and off public housing. Forced to spend a weekend visiting each of her 16 coworkers, convincing them to vote for her job instead of receiving a bonus of 1000 euros each, Sandra’s fragile mental health is put to the test. 

It’s a powerful portrayal; Sandra’s struggle to push through clinical depression and her reluctance to put her colleagues on the spot by asking them to sacrifice for her is heart wrenching. The hours pass quickly and the humiliation of begging people, the majority of whom have already voted her out in a previous ballot, add to the tension and suspense. Cotillard’s performance is wrought with guilt and turmoil, while remaining poised and dignified. With the support of her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), who encourages Sandra to keep going every time she wants to give up, the journey feels like an experience that unravels not just for her, but for the audience as well.

Sandra is a symbol of what it means to be human, to live. The tale of Sisyphus came to mind while watching the film: the Greek myth of the king sentenced for eternity to push the ginormous boulder up the hill only to watch it roll back down. Two Days, One Night is not, however, a myth. In the Dardenne's film Sandra is not condemned to roll the boulder forever. Come Monday morning, her fate is in the hands of others, she’ll either have her job or not. But she doesn't succumb to this. Sandra does the best she can with what she can control: herself.

We often want something or need it and must rise up and do everything we can to achieve or overcome the hurdles that inevitably come with our goals. The trials can seem relentless. One problem is solved only for another to sprout in its place. These situations tend to demand the most tedious or soul crushing choices that can lead to physical or psychic pain. The Dardennes are noted for making films in which humanity is trying to find its way, encountering each other and opening up dialogue. The pain endured in these universal experiences of temporarily pushing figurative boulders up hills can absolutely make us stronger if we look on them with open hearts and a lack of bitterness, so that we can handle the next set of better challenges with a little more ease.


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