Deux Jours, Une Nuit
(Two Days, One Night)

Socially-mined and empathetic. With a truth-approaching performance by
Marion Cotillard.

Small-scale, naturalistic, pedestrian by design. In other words, a Dardenne brothers movie. About the tough working class life in an uneventful Belgian town, organizational relations in one solar panel factory, and, all in all, about leading an ordinary existence. One can’t say that the topic and its setting are especially stimulating, though the film’s dedication to showing an everyday side of life, scantily dramatized, is praiseworthy; it gives a good workout to the viewer’s empathy.

What was attention-grabbing was an absolutely convincing, unglamorous, lived-in performance from Marion Cotillard, as a deeply depressed — if recovering — workwoman, heading for unemployment. Her reluctance to take action, or preference for passivity and helplesseness, in face of the pressing need to humiliate herself and beg for help, were well-observed as signs of her condition. Cotillard captured the low spirit of her character spectacularly, though her way of announcing an occasional breakdown (by touching a throat), and remedying it with long sips of water, were too actorly — as nothing else in her performance. It’s amazing how disheveled hair, a basic outfit (ugly jeans and a pink top), a hunched posture with a dejected face can make a person so basic and unattractive. The film’s main pleasure was in noticing the subtle evolution of the heroine’s attitude, as she visited more and more of her colleagues to convince them to shed their bonuses worth 1000 euro, and save her job. The number of encounters, every one of them shown on screen, made one realize what she had to emotionally endure. Her change was about gaining some conviction about the rightness of her cause, and stopping to be so apologetic about it. Ultimately, that was what the film was about. Its focus was also on surveying the social landscape of the town, showing different family arrangements, places of stay, and varying responses to the heroine’s plea.

The film wasn’t heavy or depressing (ok, perhaps a bit); rather casually observational, aiming for a documentary-like feel, even objectivity. Opening and final credits, in their stern formality (simple white titles on a black background, unaccompanied by any music or sound), had more seriousness to them than the film actually required. The picture didn’t use the soundtrack, except when the characters listened to songs on the radio, driving a car. There were two scenes of that, both notable for their emphasized length and sparse traces of entertainment.

Among the unusually mundane sights not to be found in many moving pictures: Cotillard making a bed in childrens’ room, riding a bus, or her husband serving reheated pizzas to dinner and cutting them with a knife. Fragments like that were aplenty, needless to say. The culminating episode with Cotillard attempting a suicide was as unsensational as brief, and quickly led to the strengthening of her character, a reversal of sorts. After she took an overdose of pills, quite funny was the way she diligently put back stuff into a cup from which she drank water, and placed a package of Xanax back into a bathroom drawer.

The passage of time was quite confusing; it looked stretched. As the title suggests, events took place mainly during one weekend, but the lighting conditions when Cotillard went around town seemed inconsistent. One imagines that in a more crass movie there would be statistics on the screen telling you which person
the heroine is presently meeting, and what time of day it actually is.

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