I’ll do my best to keep this one quick. It shouldn’t be difficult, since Two Days, One Night is a 90-minute film with a one-note plot, the bulk of which could be compressed into a two-minute montage.
Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a solar energy employee whose coworkers are faced with a terrible dilemma. See, the managers have promised their employees a 1,000-Euro bonus, but they can’t afford to pay that without laying Sandra off. Why Sandra, you ask? Well, she was diagnosed with a terrible case of depression, seemingly incapable of holding it together for five minutes without popping a handful of Xanax.
Sandra also has two kids to care for, so of course she needs the work and the money. But of course, her colleagues all have money problems of their own as well. The matter has been put to a vote, so Sandra has to go to each of her colleagues in turn and essentially beg for them to give up their bonuses so she can keep on working.
The basic premise of the working poor forced to screw each other over for their own survival is a potentially good one. The problem is that it’s expressed through the exact same scene playing out over and over again. Sandra goes to meet someone, she recaps the movie’s premise; she recaps how many people have already said yes; “Oh, I need the money because of X, Y, and Z;” then Sandra says “I know it’s a crappy situation, but this isn’t my fault;” “I wish I could help;” “There’s no need to apologize;” rinse and repeat.
That last point is another problem that constantly stuck in my craw throughout the entire film. Sandra herself only ever seems to give a half-hearted attempt at campaigning for her job. In fact, by her own admission, Sandra could probably do everyone a lot more good if she took some time away from work to try and get better. If it wasn’t for her husband (Manu, played by Fabrizio Rongione) and one of her coworkers (Juliette, played by Catherine Salee), it’s doubtful that Sandra would even find the motivation to get out of bed. Yes, she feels awful about begging for her job at her colleagues’ expense. Yes, a lot of that is the depression talking. But if our protagonist can barely muster up the energy to involve herself in the plot, where does that leave the audience?
Moreover, it bugs me that everyone agrees the situation is terrible and yet no one steps forward to offer another solution. Not until the movie is practically over, anyway. Just in the process of meeting these people, I could think of one or two employees who should be fired or let go, taking Sandra’s place for worse offenses than merely being depressed. And absolutely no one thinks to offer Sandra any possible leads on getting more money or finding another job. Hell, given these working conditions and the way these employers create such hostile working environments, why would anyone want to work there in the first place?
Oh, and fuck if I could tell you what Sandra even does at this place. It’s really not explained what Sandra would bring to the business if she stayed on or what options she would have if she got laid off, and these ill-defined stakes come back to bite the film severely after the vote is over.
This is the film that got Marion Cotillard a Best Actress nomination, and that for me is the final proof that this was an unforgivably fucking atrocious year for leading female roles, even more than usual. Granted, Marion Cotillard is always worth watching, even when she’s sleepwalking through a role, but sleepwalking is exactly what she does here. Still, Cotillard bothered to show up in a subtitled French film, and that’s enough for the Academy to put her in the top five of 2014. Pitiful.
Sitting through this movie, its 96 percent Tomatometer baffled me. Most of the reviews appear to cite the movie’s sincerity and compassion as positive aspects, and that’s certainly fair enough. But if this movie really wanted to emphasize the concept of class warfare forcing us to each others’ throats, it shouldn’t have been so boring. At the very least, the film needed some kind of gimmick or angle to bring a new perspective to the problem, rather than merely stating that the problem exists.
The repetitive plot is another drawback. This message demanded characters who were worth a damn, not characters who drift in and out of the film for five minutes at a time. Without characters who are worth latching onto — aside from one character with a mental illness that’s only addressed in the most superficial detail — all we’re left with are people going through the exact same problems we all have. So people need extra money because they have bills to pay and mouths to feed? People need work because the economy’s bad?
Hey, Academy voters! Welcome to the real world! Now tell us something we don’t know!
Two Days, One Night is about how long these 90 minutes felt while I was sitting in the theater. Sure, Cotillard is always worth watching, but this isn’t even close to her best work, much less one of the year’s best. The film clearly had its heart in the right place, but the plot is horribly dull and repetitive, harping on the same points over and over again, often repeating the same lines of dialogue word for word. The narrative is further padded out by interminably long shots and rare, inconsequential, flash-in-the-pan shocks that never come until the third act. And by that point, we’ve already sat through an hour of screen time that felt like it was twice as long. Not recommended.