Friday, August 28, 2015
#771: Two Days, One Night
I end up saying this a lot on this blog, but here we go again: Two Days, One Night is the kind of film that would never be made in Hollywood. What's most interesting about that statement here, however, is that Hollywood really should be making films like this, and in fact often used to.
The basic premise of the film is that a woman who has been on medical leave from her job finds out that her boss had the other workers vote on whether they would get a bonus or have her come back to work. Now she must go around to all of her co-workers to convince them to forgo their bonus so she can keep her job. It's the kind of small, human-scale premise that is never made in Hollywood anymore, but its build to the vote and her quiet desperation lend the film a suspense and emotional connection that is totally lacking in what is actually produced these days.
The film lives or dies with Marion Cotillard. She's in every scene and even rarely off camera, and because we don't really get a chance to meet her before she is thrown into her challenge (another thing Hollywood would never allow) Cotillard needs to spend the rest of the film building up her character's backstory and giving her actions more than just a surface "I just want my job back" air. The film might have been more successful with a less glamorous actress - Cotillard's star quality and beauty makes it hard to see her as anything other than the protagonist in the film, like Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button (while both are great performances, Pitt's was more acceptable with the context of Fincher's hyperreal fable). Still, it's easy to forgive this casting when the technique both in front of and behind the camera is so impressive. The movie's episodic nature almost turns it into a mystery thriller, with each co-worker another piece of the puzzle, but the Dardennes' humanism makes Cotillard's journey more realistic and even urgent than any whodunit could ever be.
I don't know if Two Days, One Night rises to the level of the best films by the Dardenne brothers, but I can confidently say that cinema needs more films like this. Cotillard's journey recalls that in The Bicycle Thief but lacks the melodrama of that era, instead reaching for a technique that approaches verite, a reminder that, even for these former documentary filmmakers, fiction often resembles life more than the real thing.