Two Days, One Night is a Belgian film released to critical acclaim in 2014. Written and directed by the Dardenne brothers and starring Oscar winning Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose), it bagged a bunch of awards.
Mother of two Sandra (Cotillard) has been off work with depression and, though deemed fit to return to the factory, she finds that she has been hung out to dry. Realising the work can be carried out by fewer staff, management have given her colleagues a simple choice: a €1000 bonus or Sandra can keep her job. Unsurprisingly they voted for the cash, but after it becomes clear a conniving foreman unduly influenced the vote, Sandra is granted a second ballot.
“I don’t exist,” she laments. Yet, urged on by her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) who insists “You have to fight”, she reluctantly spends the weekend trying to convince her peers to forgo their bonuses.
It’s a fine performance from Cotillard, crucial given the story is entirely from her perspective. Except for Manu, the supporting cast are largely bit players. This is intentional, as Sandra must knock on over a dozen doors and go through the same strained rigmarole. It is repetitive, monotonous and soul-destroying, aping her low paid manual labour.
Sandra seems to barely know her workmates and finds that, like her, they are all struggling to make ends meet. The brief, intense interactions are painful to watch. There are no rousing all-for-one speeches, no implausible eloquence. Sandra stumbles and fumbles, faced with people who need the money to get by. The range of responses to her plea are realistic and engrossing, from conflicted sympathy to naked self-interest, even violence. It’s no barrel of laughs, though the tension is briefly relieved on a football pitch by the comic joy of Timur, who is wracked with guilt for voting against his conscience.
Despite the odds, her cause gains momentum and her confidence grows. But this film is about more than self-worth or one woman’s battle with depression. It speaks of the insecurity and isolation of low-paid, crap-contract capitalism, where middle management can pit workers against each other and wash their hands of the layoffs.
‘Put yourself in my shoes’, opines almost everyone in the film. It’s hard not to do just that and wonder, in your workplace, would people vote for you or the bonus?
“Every time I feel like a beggar, a thief coming to take their money. They look at me, ready to hit me. I feel like I’m hitting them too.”
Sandra (Two Days, One Night)