In Two Days, One Night, Marion Cotillard (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) plays Sandra Bya, a young mother who awakes one morning to find that her coworkers have voted to have her laid off in exchange for a 1,000 euro bonus.
A friend at the factory organizes a second vote, and Sandra visits her coworkers one by one over the weekend, trying to convince as many as she can to forfeit the bonus and vote for her to stay.
The stakes are high. Her chain-restaurant cook husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) and their young son and daughter, depend on Sandra’s salary.
Sandra has to push herself to appeal to her working-class coworkers to put her interests before their own while she herself doubts that she is even worth saving. She sees herself as a “thief,” invading the lives of people trying to get by just like her.
Cotillard, who is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role, portrays Sandra as waifish and drained. With rounded shoulders and a sunken chest, she is a physical embodiment of someone too tired and fragile to fight against a world crashing in around her.
Two Days, the ninth feature film by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, is starkly simple in its concept and execution. It is entirely lacking a musical score and driven by documentary-like handheld camera-work, and Cotillard’s nuanced portrait of a woman racked by mental illness takes center-stage.
Like a salesman’s pitch, she repeats a near-identical monologue several times throughout the film’s briskly paced 95 minute run time. Its minimalist screenwriting leaves the story’s power resting in Cotillard’s ability to sell the emotional exertion of each doorbell she rings.
What Sandra fears most is for people to see her as weak, in need of handouts, protection and pity. The optimistic, poignantly rendered argument Two Days, One Night makes about depression and hopelessness is that it is most pernicious when it distorts the truth: that real love and altruism can be found in one’s family and community.
Two Days, One Night is playing through Thursday at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville.