Deux Jours, Une Nuit
(Two Days, One Night)
(Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2014)
Since their international breakthrough some 20 years ago the Dardennes have spent their time excelling at making unassuming little movies that in their telling make big points. When I saw they were working with Marion Cotillard, a star far bigger than any other that has ever appeared at the centre of one of their movies, I got a little bit concerned that they were abandoning what brought ‘em to the dance in favour of something a little bit more…movie-ish. Thankfully that isn’t even remotely the case, and this film is right up there with my two favourites of theirs to date, Rosetta, and La Promesse.
Cotillard IS brilliant. There is no movie starness at all in her performance. It’s a fairly showy role, a woman recovering from a battle with depression, begging for her job, but Cotillard never plays the big moments big, she exercises restraint every step of the way, yet through her face, her voice, her hunched shoulders, there is so much emotion bleeding from her every little expression. She’s surrounded by a multiracial cast, and Dardennes regulars like Olivier Gourmet, and Fabrizio Rongione who all keep things tremendously down to earth, and go the extra mile towards evoking the realities of working class Belgian society that the Dardennes have always aimed to represent on screen.
Compared to some of their other movies this is one of their most plot based efforts to date, and they use that plot to explore depression in incredibly restrained, unpreachy, non sensationalist fashion, that is as well handled as I’ve ever seen it done on screen, and they tie that in magnificently and uncomfortably with recession era woes, subtly communicating the impact of the higher classes actions on working men and women beyond the few on which we focus with just a scene or two. There’s something Upton Sinclair-esque in the great tragedy of a woman recovering from depression having to beg her colleagues for solidarity, for the chance to continue doing the job that sent her spiraling into the abyss to begin with.
More simply than that the film also takes us on a more straightforward emotional odyssey that ends on a beautiful note of hope, that stands beautifully alongside all the emotional anguish we’ve born witness to for an hour and a half, not forgetting or trivializing it, but honestly finding its way to a light at the end of the tunnel. It is the Dardennes at their best, operating perfectly on so many levels, as straightforward narrative cinema, as social allegory, and filmmaking masterclass, written, acted, edited with economy, class, and nothing but the truth.