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Sometimes you just want to give up. If you’re lucky, you have spouse like Manu who will tell you “you need to fight.”

An Evil Trick

If you're lucky your husband will tell you "You need to fight."
If you’re lucky your husband will tell you “You need to fight.”

The Belgian Dardenne Brothers are good storytellers, as ever. All the specifics of Two Days, One Night are parceled out slowly, over time, so that each section of the film has something new to say. So pardon me if I sum it up at once. I won’t reveal any major spoilers:

On a Friday afternoon, Sandra (Marion Cotillard) learns that she has been voted off the island, so to speak. She works at a solar panel factory. Her boss gave the firm’s 16 employees an option: take a 1,000-euro bonus and lay off Sandra, or no bonus and Sandra keeps her job. They voted for their bonuses, in what wasn’t even a fair vote.

The bigger problem is Sandra’s emotional state. The news destroys her. Her job, her friends, and her family’s means of support, all vanish in one cruel blow.

It’s a nasty, evil trick that I can’t imagine actually happening (though I’ve later read it’s not unheard-of). The Dardennes take their time in explaining it to a skeptical audience’s satisfaction, but we do learn some details that make it more plausible. I’ll let you discover them at the Dardennes’ pace.

A Writer’s Exercise

As for Sandra, her first choice is to give up on everything. That’s when Manu steps in and says “you need to fight.” With the help of her best friend from work Juliette (Catherine Salée) and support from her husband, Sandra decides to talk to each employee over the course of the weekend for a re-vote that management has agreed to, this time on a secret ballot.

What follows is 16 short episodes of conversations about the economy and the value of a thousand Euros. “I didn’t vote against you I voted for my bonus.” “Dumont [the boss] did that. I’m sorry I can’t help, I need the dough for my kids.”

But there are also colleagues who agree to support Sandra in Monday’s vote — some reluctantly, some willingly.

In lesser hands, the structure would make the movie one big countdown, a distracting as you find yourself mentally counting with each scene.

Perhaps this is callous to admit, but I found it a teeny bit hard to sympathize with Sandra when she looks like Marion Cotillard. Charlize Theron might have blue-collared herself up for the role, but Cotillard, in spite of her strong performance of emotional pain, still looks like a movie star.

But Two Days, One Night is much better than its writer’s-exercise structure. The Dardennes keep us interested with revelations about Sandra along the way. They don’t tell us up front that her marriage is any less than perfect, or any details about her health. And the cast of well realized characters keeps each scene alive.

I’m not sure I’d want to see an amateur remake, but with the Dardennes at the helm, Two Days, One Night has good acting and even better storytelling. Even if maybe it isn’t the brothers’ best.