Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (La Promesse, The Kid With a Bike) are known for making movies that are grounded in reality, gritty, and steeped in basic human drama in all of the best ways. They tell simple stories that shine a spotlight on the inherent struggles that exist in the lives of normal, usually lower class people. Their films manage to resonate while still defying the expectations of how “cinematic” a story needs to be in order to make for a good movie. It should be said though that their work is often slow to build to a climax, once that climax happens it’s generally a personal one that affects only the protagonist and not the greater world around them, and the places their films take you can often leave you feeling a little down. If you’re the sort of person who can get on the Dardenne wavelength, then their movies are always easy to appreciate—and Two Days, One Night is no exception there—but they’re certainly not for everyone. So beware my praise.
Two Days, One Night focuses on a very important weekend in the life of a blue collar mother of two named Sandra (Marion Cotillard), who’s recently had some troubles at work thanks to a bout of depression leading to her having to take a leave of absence. Turns out the forced time off was just the beginning of her professional troubles though, as her boss has recently made the decree that the company she works for can’t afford to both give everyone bonuses and also keep on 17 employees, so if everybody wants to get a bump in pay, somebody’s going to have to get fired, and it’s Sandra’s head on the chopping block—a true problem, because she and her husband depend on her salary in order to pay their rent and feed their kids. When we meet Sandra it’s at the beginning of a weekend where she’s informed that there will be a vote on Monday to decide her fate—bonuses for everyone else or she keeps her job, everyone in the company gets a say, and she only has the weekend to visit each one and convince them to make a personal sacrifice for her well-being. It would be a daunting and awkward task even for someone who wasn’t prone to depression.