The compassionate eyes of Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne see the real world of ordinary people with great clarity. They see humanity’s dignity and courage, but do not fail to notice streaks of selfishness, weakness, meanness. Even as they accept the bad with the good, they show us their respect for the working classes of this world.
In their newest film, they have given us a 90 minute lesson on the realities of today’s world of work, and survival in tough times. Everything is there, in this briskly edited weekend, while we watch the brave Sandra Bya, married with two children, who is only just returning to work after time off caused by illness in the form of severe anxiety and depression. She must do something that, for a woman in her condition would be excruciating. She must fight to keep her job. She and her husband have two children, the marriage is under strain, and they badly need her wages to make ends meet, as do most of her work colleagues.
You see, while she was off work for an extended time, the boss, Monsieur Dumont and his foreman, Jean-Marc, noted that the remaining workers were able to handle the work load at the solar panel factory, by all doing a few hours overtime a week.
So on her return to work, she’s confronted with the news that a vote has been held, where her co-workers had to choose between their one thousand Euro bonus, or Sandra keeping her job. They have voted for their bonus, however, she and a union representative manage to arrange a second secret ballot for Monday morning. This was on the grounds that the foreman had misrepresented the situation and even implied that perhaps others might lose their jobs if Sandra was kept on.
During the weekend, Sandra goes to visit all of her work colleagues to plead her cause. What an agonizing weekend for anyone, – to swallow their pride, and go begging. Her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) is there all the time, encouraging, and more or less forcing her in a not so subtle way, to keep going until she has talked to all her co-workers. She has some successes, and some failures. But will it be enough to have a majority vote in her favour on Monday morning?
Through these visits to her work colleagues, we see a typical cross-section of a section of today’s society – the struggling workers, migrants, young married couples, ordinary people, with ordinary problems, just like the rest of us!
The ending contains a bitter-sweet victory for Sandra, not the one that she was hoping for, but perhaps something even better. Her dignity is returned to her, by her own decency of character. This weekend has taught her a lot, – something more valuable than holding on to a job.
What a brilliant piece of work this is. The Dardennes are famous for this type of film, where they observe modern society and the problems faced each day by the poorer people. The Dardennes work and live in small industrial towns in Belgium, which they know well.
“Two Days, one night” was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, of 2014. It won the Sydney Film Prize in 2014. Ms Cotillard was nominated in the Academy Awards, for her performance. At the BAFTAs it won in the foreign language film category. It has many other nominations and wins and was widely considered one of 2014’s best films in the critics circle.
Marion Cotillard’s performance is pure immersion into the character. She doesn’t act, she is, Sandra.
This story is more real than reality itself, – showing us the quiet desperation, along with courage in the face of insecurity, which hangs over the lives of so many millions in a heartless world focussed on principles of capitalism.
Image from IMDb courtesy of the producers of the film
Text – Copyright: Cynthia Webb, 14 March 2015