Cotillard changes minds one person at a time

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo


Two Days One Night
March 19-22 / RPL Film Theatre
4 out of 5

Even though Marion Cotillard has appeared in Hollywood productions since winning an Oscar for La Vie en Rose, her best work continues to take place in European movies: For every Dark Knight Rises (Cotillard was woefully miscast in that one) there is a gut-wrenching flick (Rust and Bone) or a poignant sociological study (Little White Lies) set across the pond.

The terrific Two Days One Night is another cross-Atlantic gem.  In Two Days One Night, a dressed-down Cotillard is at the center of a labour drama that’s like something the legendary neo-realist Italian director Roberto Rossellini would’ve made.

Marion plays Sandra, a worker in a solar panel plant on medical leave, due to depression. Not quite out of the woods, Sandra receives awful news: Her colleagues have agreed to a significant bonus if they allow the plant’s managers to fire her. Irregularities in the termination process force a new ballot, and Sandra has 48 hours to convince at least half of her coworkers to reject the extra money and keep her in. Sandra pops Valium like candy as she looks within herself to find a good reason to keep fighting.

Directed by the always interesting Dardennes Brothers (The Kid with a Bike, L’Enfant), this has to be one of the siblings’ more accessible titles to date. Not only do they have a recognizable name (Cotillard) in the cast, Two Days One Night is more action-packed than any of their previous, rather minimalistic efforts. Sandra’s crusade is a tour of the blue-collar state of mind, one that reveals how age, gender and race impact the notion of solidarity with your fellow worker.

It’s not lost on anybody this is a dilemma created by the higher-ups so they don’t have to deal with possible repercussions. Any result is on the employees only. Initially, the workforce is unwilling to even consider the possibility of returning their bonuses, but some are empathetic enough to put themselves in Sandra’s shoes.

Despite the episodic nature of the process, the Dardennes keep the film engaging by goosing-up the plot with relevant information at every step, turning the would-be swing voters into fully formed characters, stars in stories of their own.

Marion Cotillard is tremendous in this role, the Giulietta Masina to the Dardennes’ Rossellini. Unlike other actors, (say, Charlize Theron in North Country), a fresh-faced Cotillard in dumpy clothing is quite believable. Her transformation from tired, depressed non-entity into someone willing to put a fight is gradual and in some ways, imperceptible. There are no epiphanies or grand gestures, just acts of kindness and selfishness that echo inside Sandra.

Without having to scorch the Earth, towards the end the Dardennes pull a beauty of a twist that allows Sandra experience her coworkers inner-turmoil (it’s not what you think). Her response demonstrates growth and serves as an example: If you don’t like the question, question the premise.