Thursday, September 17, 2015

Review: Two Days, One Night

Country: Belgium
Language: French | Arabic | English
Release Date: 21 May 2014
Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Writers: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
95 minutes

Humiliation is often part of a character’s arc. But usually, in stories, a journey through humiliation is not the entirety of the arc. This is the case, however, is what the award-winning French film Two Days, One Night is about.

The story begins when Sandra (Marion Cotillard) receives a phone call while she is making breakfast for her family. The call is from a colleague at work and she is told that a vote has been taken by her fellow employees and she will be laid off. It is evident that Sandra and her family belong to the struggling working class. To make matters worse, they have recently taken out a mortgage on their home. They need the job. But Sandra’s fellow employees are also working class folks and when faced with the choice of their $1000 bonus or having Sandra lose her job, the employees chose their jobs. The problem is: Sandra had a nervous breakdown earlier – from which she is still not fully recovered—and while she was away the company realized that 16 people could do the work instead of seventeen. All everyone has to do is to work three hours overtime each week. So why should the boss take Sandra back again? Especially when a new job contract with another company has popped up?

Sandra, however, is not willing to give in easily. The colleague who called her has managed to finagle a new vote. If Sandra can do her best over the weekend to convince her fellow employees to change their minds –for her sake—she can keep her job. But how to beg, plead, ask, people to give up what is “rightfully” their own? She is not particularly a fighter. She freezes, her voice constricts, she goes into panic mode, she gets suicidal. She is not the person to go around begging. It’ll only bring humiliation, self-loathing, self-recriminations. In short, humiliation.

Humiliation is hard to watch, even when Sandra meets those who are willing to be sacrificial for the sake of another person. It’s hard. But when she meets the self-satisfied, it becomes even harder. But the weekend progresses, and Sandra commits to her pleading (for the most part: there is a major lapse toward the end.)

This is a good little film. It has heart in its restrained Belgian way, and although I generally think restraint – just as over-emotionalness—has to be done well in film-making, the restraint works well here because the audience is well-aware that Sandra is an emotional mess who is holding up fairly well (externally) considering the circumstances. It’s a wonderful study on human nature, human resilience, society, selfishness, rationalization, and all those other spiritual words we use when we talk about loving our fellow man. Highly recommended. I suspect those who love stories about the human spirit or spiritual movies will like this because it is so well done. Spirituality without preachiness. Good discussion movie for schools, film groups, spiritual groups. If you like actioners, this might not be the film for you however.
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