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Review: ‘Two Days, One Night’ is an inspiring one-woman tour de force (Includes first-hand account)

Job security is practically an oxymoron in today’s economy. Companies are still filing for bankruptcy with alarming frequency and downsizing or “reorganizing” is a common cost-cutting strategy. Taking extended leave for any reason can be frightening as it gives the employer the opportunity to realize they can operate at full capacity without you. Unfortunately that is the case in Two Days, One Night as one woman tries to overturn her dismissal.

One phone call turns Sandra’s (Marion Cotillard) seemingly tranquil morning upside down as she’s informed her co-workers have voted to retain their bonuses rather than allow her to keep her job when given the choice by their employer. Encouraged by her friend and husband Sandra requests a second vote on Monday, which gives her the weekend to convince the same people that voted against her to lend their support. The next 48 hours are a rollercoaster of relief, disappointment, gratitude, rejection, new friendships, broken marriages and violence.

Still recovering from an emotional breakdown, Sandra must gather all her strength to persuade her colleagues that she is once again capable of performing her duties. However, the more difficult argument is convincing them that she needs her salary as much as they need their bonus. One would think repeating the same plea would become tedious, but most of the conversations play out so differently that the audience is invested in the outcomes of each individual exchange as well as the final ballot for which the result remains uncertain until the end.

As the hours pass and the deadline nears, the story becomes further complicated. Sandra discovers someone else is influencing the vote, discouraging people from voting in her favour. While this gives her ammunition for her case, it is also another obstacle she must overcome when speaking to her co-workers and another hill she must climb in her personal struggle to remain motivated.

Writers/directors Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne’s script is very well-crafted, taking a simple idea and expanding it into an intricate narrative with various ups and downs that are not only unpredictable but fascinating to witness unfold. As Sandra’s chances of success increase, so does the viewer’s interest in the story. Cotillard is exceptional as she visibly experiences Sandra’s emotional journey, which ranges from total defeat to euphoria. Though she approaches each conversation with the same reluctance and humility, the other person’s reaction determines the rest of her emotional state. The entire picture relies on Cotillard’s performance and she never falters, earning her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione and Catherine Salée

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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