Most film actors are perfectly good at what they do but there are a few who put in performances so poor that it actually distracts from the scenes they appear in. Still, they’re irrelevant right now. I want to talk about those for whom it works the other way, those actors who are so staggeringly brilliant that they somehow pull you in and drag you out of the moment at the same time.
If you’ve seen Captain Phillips then that scene at the end, back in the boat, is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Jennifer Lawrence can do it too and does in Silver Linings Playbook (and Winter’s Bone and American Hustle) and Daniel Day Lewis manages it every time he steps in front of a camera. Then there is Marion Cotillard and her incredible showing as someone living with terrible injuries in the French film Rust & Bone.
Of course Cotillard is good in everything she appears in but she is one of those actors who, with the right script and director, can hit it clean out of the park. Her Oscar winning performance in La Vie En Rose proves this as does this film Deux Jours, Une Nuit (Two Days, One Night), the latest drama from Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.
I was not aware of the Dardenne brothers until 2011’s Le Gamin au Vélo (The Kid with the Bike) but they have been directing movies together since the late 70s, winning the Palme d’Or twice from six nominations. Their films tell simple but compelling stories and in terms of naturalistic cinema and social realism there aren’t many film makers who can match them.
Two Days, One Night centres around Marion Cotillard’s Sandra who, following depression, returns to work only to get laid off. She is given one chance at a reprieve though. The fact is that her employers cannot afford to keep her on and pay all the other staff their bonuses so she is told that if her colleagues can be persuaded to forgo the extra €1000 in their pay packets then she can stay. She gets this news on a Friday with the vote being on Monday morning. This gives her the weekend to visit all of her work mates and speak to them.
The plot doesn’t instantly sound inspiring and could have been quite monotonous but with different aspects of the story layered on top it quickly becomes compelling.
First of all there are Sandra’s mental health issues essayed perfectly by the leading actress. Do not expect the histrionics of Blue Jasmine. Cotillard is beautifully restrained in how she plays the character’s fragile emotional state, which only makes her performance more powerful. There is one moment where she hits a particular low and it is underplayed to such a level that it is both heartbreaking and chilling at the same time. The less she shows her pain, the more you feel it.
Added to this are some surprising and moving reactions from the people she approaches, a complex relationship with her husband and the suggestion that there is someone in the work place engineering the whole unfortunate situation.
There is also the ‘what would you do?’ element making you consider whether you yourself would accept a one grand bonus if it meant someone else losing their job, which is a lot more realistic and a lot less salacious than the question posed by Indecent Proposal twenty years ago.
All of this comes together into a brilliant little film which follows all of its threads through to a suitable ending. If you, like me, have been largely unaware of the Dardenne brothers then now is the time to get on board. Two Days, One Night is in cinemas and is also available for viewing at home via Curzon on Demand so you really have no excuse.
I do just have one question though. If it starts on a Friday and ends on a Monday shouldn’t it be called Two Days, Three Nights?
Is this one for the kids?
No not really, the film is rated 15 here in the UK. It explores grown up concerns in an honest way.
The Ripley Factor
Using the Ripley Factor to analyse the portrayal of women in cinema doesn’t really work with social realism. It needs that certain level of artifice common in most films. Asking if Cotillard’s Sandra is believable as a real person is just redundant, it’s like testing Jurassic Park for dinosaurs. Needless to say, she does not exist purely to define or motivate men, she is not objectified in a way that does not balance with the treatment of men in the film and her inclusion does not feel like tokenism.
Ten out of ten on the Ken Loach Scale.
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