Two Days, One Night ★★★★★


It's so easy to overlook the Dardenne brothers. They've been making knockout films for 25 years, but their work is the opposite of sexy. Their most commercially appealing films - the crime drama LORNA'S SILENCE or THE UNKNOWN GIRL, about a doctor trying to uncover the facts of a patient's death - are among their lesser efforts (still legit great), while low-concept movies about a girl looking for a job (ROSETTA), a grieving father (THE SON), and a kid with a bike (THE KID WITH A BIKE) will break you. When it comes to the Dardennes, it seems the simpler the better.

So it tracks that one of their simplest films, TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT, ranks as not just one of the Dardenne Bros' greatest films but one of the best films of the decade. Movies don't get much simpler: a woman will lose her job unless her co-workers vote to forego bonuses to keep her on the payroll, so she spends a weekend going from door to door asking for their support. It's the kind of thing that harkens back to the surface simplicity of great world cinema like BICYCLE THIEVES - the sort of thing that built its reputation on its ability to travel from country to country without losing relevance or resonance. While TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT takes place in Belgium, its premise travels. And while, like A SEPARATION, there are cultural specifics that remain somewhat alien to a western viewer, they only serve to root the film in reality.

Departing from their tendency to work with low-profile actors or even non-actors, in TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT, the Dardennes worked with a major international star. Marion Cotillard already had INCEPTION and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES under her belt before she came to play Sandra here (not to mention a Best Actress Oscar for LA VIE EN ROSE) and the greatest thing that can be said for her performance is that you'd never know it. Under the eyes of her directors, she sheds every trace of glamour without sacrificing the magnetic quality that makes stars in the first place. It's to its eternal credit that TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT never feels like "the first A-list Dardenne brothers film", but rather fits comfortably into their filmography.

As Sandra goes from modest home to modest home... swallowing her pride (and Xanax) again and again... fighting back depression and despair... taking as much joy as possible from the occasional win to keep herself going... we share the glimpses she gets into the lives of her neighbors, most of whom are also struggling to get by, their €1,000 bonus as vital to their survival as her job is to hers. There are no easy solutions, but these honest, awkward, sad, frightening, moving interactions make TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT more compelling than any Hollywood explodofest and a perfect example of film as empathy machine (per Roger Ebert). At a time when our communities are being disrupted, examined and overhauled, the Dardenne brothers' camera looks closely at what "community" means and the limits and possibilities of being a small part of one.