One of the most acclaimed filmmaking teams in the world, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne have brought a level of social realism to the screen in a manner that has taken art house and world cinema lovers by storm. Their latest, 'Two Days, One Night' has been a big hit with critics and audiences alike, garnering honours for the film and its lead performance from Marion Cotillard. Now on DVD through Madman's prestigious Directors Suite series, a wider audience have a chance to check out the film... but is it actually worth the acclaim?
What 'Two Days, One Night' boils down to is this: Sandra (Cotillard) is put in a difficult position in her workplace at a solar panel factory, where her colleagues have voted to have her fired in favour of pay bonuses. Sandra suffers from debilitating depression, but has gotten herself back on track and needs her job to support herself, her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) and their children. Over a weekend, she visits each of her workmates and tries to convince them to vote in her favour when a new ballot is conducted on the Monday. It's a great premise to begin with, but about half an hour into the film, it becomes very clear that what you're watching is essentially just Sandra going from person-to-person, and there's only so far that this can go.
I must admit something off the bat, though. I'm not a fan of recent French or Belgium film, and the last film from the Dardennes, 'The Kid With A Bike' (2011), left me very cold and very angry. Bearing this in mind, while I wasn't completely taken by 'Two Days, One Night', it's easy to see why audiences have responded so positively. It's a very accomplished piece of filmmaking, beautifully shot and with a carefully calibrated rhythm. The problem is, once the narrative falls into repetition, the film quickly starts to lose its spark, and you begin to tick the boxes of every narrative point you expect (those who sympathise, you who can't afford to not have their bonus, those that are convinced, violent outbursts), coupled with a checklist of depression clichés that are so predictable they lack their power. It's very much a slice of life, this film, and is surely commenting on difficulties within its country of origin, but as a narrative, it just doesn't have any lasting effect. The cumulative result is a film that's more dull than devastating.
What saves it though is Marion Cotillard, who is absolutely fantastic as Sandra. Where lesser actors would fall into the lazy traps that come with "acting depression", Cotillard finds subtlety and truth that elevates both the character and the film. The same can be said for Rongione, who beautifully captures the frustration and patience of having a partner suffering from depression. If it weren't for the two of them, the film would simply fall apart.
Cotillard finds subtlety and truth that elevates both the character and the film.
I have no doubt 'Two Days, One Night' will be a powerful experience for a wider audience than it will be an unsatisfying one, as demonstrated by its acclaim and success. The Dardenne's have found a voice that people respond to, and that make them important filmmakers. Unfortunately, I'm not one of those people, and found the film a forgettable and uninspiring experience. There are flashes of something in there, but the result left me cold and frustrated.
PICTURE & SOUND
'Two Days, One Night' comes to us on DVD from Madman. The picture is generally fantastic, the 1.85:1 transfer capturing the surprisingly bright and colourful photography in the film. Detail is the best you could expect from standard definition, but certainly doesn't distract. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is subtle and effective, especially when it comes to the aural landscapes behind the dialogue.
The only extra on offer is an excellent 17-minute interview with Cotillard where she speaks candidly about the making of the film and working with the Dardennes, whom she greatly admired and never expected to work with. Her easy nature and frank openness make it far more entertaining than the standard press interview.