Marion Cotillard Proves Herself An Undeniable Force In The Emotionally Jarring Two Days, One Night.

Two Days, One Night.
Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne.
Writer: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne.
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salée.
Playing At: Angelika Film Center (Dallas).

Two Days, One Night is something of a distressing watch, folks. But it's also one of the most important films in the history of cinema. So you're just going to have to suck it up and see it.

What this film offers, really, is a rare lesson about cinema — one that most people don't give much thought.

Allow me to explain: I used to say that we all go to the movies to escape from our everyday doldrums — that, for 90 or so minutes, we could get lost in the fantasy of a movie and temporarily forget whatever racket we're currently facing.

But watching the absorbing Two Days, One Night does something else entirely. It comforts that, yes, life is hard and struggle is real — but, more important, that we're not fighting the good fight alone.

This movie carves a new path for movies in that regard.. They’re sad. They’re, at times, tragic. But every single one encourages that it’s OK to hurt. We are human, after all.

There's just so much truth in Two Days, One Night. It opens with Sandra (Marion Cotillard) getting a phone call from a colleague at work. Turns out Sandra is being let go from her job. Naturally, she's devastated. Not helping matters is the fact she'd just recently suffered a nervous breakdown and had to take a few weeks off from her gig at a small solar-panel factory in a small industry town try and recover. But that's not the worst part. Rather, this is: During Sandra's absence, management at the solar power company held a vote and decided that, if Sandra were let go, everyone else could get a sweet $1,000 bonus.

And so the real story begins as Sandra puts up a good fight and convinces her employers to vote on the matter again. One trick: She only has 48 hours to visit every one of her 16 colleagues and ask, cap in hand, for them to sacrifice their bonuses and vote her back into gainful employment. And, just as it would mean a lot to the working-class Sandra, who very much needs this job to survive, the $1,000 bonus means a lot to her coworkers. Things get pretty uncomfortable: Two Days, One Night follows Sandra as she visits each person, bares her heart and soul and camouflages her humiliation while peacefully explaining — in the face of emotional starvation — why it's crucial that she keeps her job at the factory.

As she trudges through that unenviable task, she pops Xanax in a effort to battle a palpable anxiety and a depression that is as deep as the ocean. There's a real heroism here: What she has to do requires her to be vigorous and confront her already deprived mental health. Her gestures indicate that she's broken inside and her body radiates exhaustion. But her face and demure composition bear bravery. Hers is a truly valiant effort.

Really, I could probably write thousands of words on Marion Cotillard's fierce performance in Two Days, One Night. I'll spare you that and settle for a two paragraphs instead.

We've long known that Cotillard boasts depth and range alike as an actress. She deservedly won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in 2007's La Vie en Rose and, rightly, she's earned another Oscar nomination for this role. Here, in playing a woman who sacrifices her emotionally overloaded brain with courage and grit, she just nails it.

With grace and sincerity, she's shares in Two Days, One Night a double-barreled shotgun blast of truth and feelings about what it's like to have your life destroyed in one moment. Her Sandra is weak, helpless and pathetic — but she masks it all into a valiant desperation, determined to face any and all humiliation for each visit so she can show how important keeping this job is to her. She's as open as the day is long and never once shows indignation, not even when she knows some of her efforts are as hopeless as they are unpleasant. And in turn, she lights a fire withing herself. That's all Cotillard; without her participation and passionate commitment, this movie would have been radically different. Her fearless performance is, without question, this film's big, beating heart.

There's no sense in denying it: Two Days, One Night just wrecked me. A heavy drama about a real struggle in contemporary society can be a tough pill to swallow, but this journey is carefully controlled by frequent directorial collaborators Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne (Rosetta, The Kid with the Bike) and the actress at its center. In turn, Two Days, One Night acts as a sincere and insightful observation on the hardships and hustle of the common man and woman, of you and me.

Grade: A+.

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