Two Days, One Night: Job Insecurity

Two Days, One Night

The plot of Two Days, One Night might seem hokey and forced if the 21st century workplace wasn’t so bloodless and relentless: Sandra must convince nine of her fourteen co-workers at a solar-panel factory to forgo a $1,000 Euro raise over a single weekend or she loses her job. This would be a hellish challenge for anyone, but for Sandra, just emerging from a depression severe enough to place her on medical leave and spur her to Xanax-gobbling binges, the task is almost Von-Trier-level sadistic. Struggling with a disease that disintegrates any sense of individual worth, she must go door-to-door (or maybe worse yet, pick up the phone) and convince them (and herself) to value her continued employment — to value her — more than a raise they’ve already banked on.

As always, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne excel at indicating the enormity of a mundane task and following a character’s trudge toward its completion — besides Kelly Reichardt maybe, no other filmmakers so explicitly refuse to elide the steps it takes or the effort expended to just get shit done. And the plot forces Sandra to poke her nose into a variety of settings where a set of quick, broad strokes illuminate how life is lived — the infant-toting wife who secretively slips into Arabic on the phone with her husband, the black contract worker who fears he’ll be ostracized if he backs Sandra, the soccer coach who elicits a sharp flinch from Sandra when he bursts into tears. And repeatedly at the edges of these scenes are kids, generally oblivious and just going about their kidness.

It’s a little distracting to see a movie star in a Dardennes’ movie, but Marion Cotillard is skinny and unglamorous without ostentatiously uglifying herself in a display of Oscar-thirsting exhibitionism. She trudges up to each door, seeming less determined to persuade her co-workers at times than merely to cross them off the list. She repeats rumors that the foreman’s threats invalidated a previous ballot, not because this detail seem likely to sway the others but because focusing on unfairness of her dilemma takes the focus off her, away from the reality that she’s asking these people to assess her own individual value. She doesn’t want pity, she tells them. She doesn’t want to cause trouble, she tells her inexhaustibly patient husband. It’s a performance powered by a sharp understanding that at the core of depression is a conviction that you’re not worth the effort it takes to keep living.

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