It’s rather unfortunate that it took me this long to see Two Days, One Night. Marion Cotillard was nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars last year for her role in this film, but the extremely limited American theatrical release and the obviously delayed home video release means that many people will not likely see this film, especially because Cotillard did not end up taking home the prize. And yet, this film deserves to be seen, as it is one of the most heartbreaking films to come out of yesteryear, and it is very effective at pulling at those ever important heartstrings.
Sandra Bya (Cotillard) is a factory worker as a solar panel plant who had a nervous breakdown and was forced to take time off of work. Just as she is about to return to the job, the management decides that they don’t want her anymore, seeing as the plant has run just fine without her. But rather than dismiss her outright, the management gives her co-workers a choice: vote to keep their year-end bonuses, or let their bonuses go toward paying Sandra’s salary. The vote to keep Sandra fails by a wide margin, but due to apparent pressure from a vindictive foreman, Sandra convinces the management to conduct a new, secret ballot after the weekend. Now it is Sandra’s task to visit each of her co-workers and ask them to stand beside her and help her keep her job.
The set-up for this film is, in a word, genius. Watching Sandra go from co-worker to co-worker, figurative hat in hand, and ask for them to help her keep her job is difficult to watch. Her family will seriously struggle to make ends meet without her job, but so many of her co-workers are also relying on their bonuses. Each of them has their own struggles that become apparent in the snapshots of their lives we see through Sandra’s visits, and to give up their bonus would be a hardship that only some seem to be able to realistically do. None of these blue collar workers are at fault for the circumstance; it is the management that is the real villain, and none of them are empowered enough to fight back against it.
What really brings the film to greatness, though, is Cotillard’s stellar performance. Sandra is a woman who has just come out of a period of extreme mental instability, and just as she is feeling recovered enough to start being a productive human being again, this tragedy befalls her. Cotillard gives this role her all, as she pops Xanax before every encounter, is demure and embarrassed to ask for what she perceives as pity and charity, and feels guilty for putting her co-workers in such a strained and tenuous position. The perpetual brink of relapse into depressive catatonia is ever present, and Cotillard truly demonstrates her skills as one of the best actresses working today.
Two Days, One Night is a film that many casual award season spectators have likely already forgotten about, and they may never bother to see it as a result. But a film does not stop being excellent once the Oscar buzz dies down. This is a fantastic piece of incredibly human and relatable filmmaking, and it would be a shame to miss out on it.
Do you think that Marion Cotillard is one of the best actresses working today? It’s clear that I do. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.