Skip to main content

When they see you, they’ll forget their bonus.

Two Days, One Night
(Deux jours, une nuit)
(2014)

(SPOILERS) Two Days, One Night is the first Dardenne brothers (that’s Jean-Pierre and Luc) picture I've seen.  Mind you, my forays into Belgian cinema have been few and far between of late (only In Bruges springs to mind). Their drama of workplace ethics and personal morals is blessed with an outstanding performance from the magnificent Marillion Cotillard, but suffers in attempting to sustain its loaded premise.


Following a period of illness, Sandra (Cotillard) is informed she is to lose her job at a solar panel factory. Her 16 co-workers have voted, and the majority have come out in favour of their bonuses; the employers have decided that they cannot afford both. Due to allegations of pressure brought to bear by foreman Jean-Marc (Oliver Gourmet), it is agreed a second vote will take place on the Monday morning. Sandra has the weekend to persuade her colleagues to keep her.


There’s a sense the Dardennes have over-nourished the issues Sandra must face. As well as it being vital for her to keep her job (her husband Manu, Fabrizio Rongione, doesn’t make enough to provide for their family alone), she was off work due to a nervous breakdown and continues to suffer from depression. Consequently, she is pill-popping throughout the weekend, her already traumatic and demeaning quest made so much worse. I have to admit, the brothers lost me when they contrived to throw in an overdose as part of the weekend’s attractions. Not because I had problems with believing Sandra could reach that point, but because it felt calculated and manipulative (particularly as she then manages to get up and out to ask a few more colleagues for votes before the day is over).


That aside, the Dardennes adeptly depict the nuances of a dilemma where nothing is as simple as the (ideal) answer of solidarity against the unscrupulous bosses thinking only of the bottom line. At one point Sandra even says she would vote for the bonus if she was in her co-workers’ shoes, although the final scenes suggest she was perhaps merely showing empathy for their situation. Which she does throughout. She can only attempt so much persuasion, because she fully understands the choice is not black and white.


The dilemma identifies itself as a moral one to some of her co-workers. In the most moving moment, one expresses his gratitude that she has come by, as he has been feeling so guilty about voting no. In this moment we also see just how considerate Sandra is, as she took the rap when he made an error as a new joiner. Others refuse to even speak to her, or become aggressive and even violent when asked, blaming her for the situation. In the background Jean-Marc has been calling those she visits, attempting to persuade them vote against her (at the end, he has the effrontery to ask her if she is happy “now you’ve stirred up shit”).


To others the choice is simply one of survival. They also have families to support and bills to pay. One even tells Sandra he can’t in conscience vote for her because it would be “a disaster for me”, but he nevertheless hopes the vote goes her way. So it is the motive behind the decision that counts. How they react, irrespective of whether they feel the need to vote for a bonus or retain her, announces their moral perspective.


It’s evident that the Dardennes are more broadly critiquing the basis of an entire system, one that bases happiness, meaning and validation on one’s ability to earn a crust of bread. A system that happily sacrifices scruples and any notion of an ethical framework.


We end up pretty much agreeing with all Sandra’s reasons not to go pleading with her workmates (“I’ll look like a beggar”), even if this is partly entrenched by her fragile mental state. Rongione is particularly measured and understanding as the husband attempting to be supportive in a delicate situation. He has to push her against her will. We, as much as Sandra, dread the next visit to someone who may say no. And then there’s the future; how she can possibly be comfortable at work in the event that she does win the vote? A significant number of those present would doubtless resent her for what they have lost.


As such, the Dardennes shift the framing with the final offer, to allow her perspective and clarity. Sandra is able to lift herself from the quagmire of this unfair battleground. She loses the vote, as equal ones are cast, but she knows she fought a good fight. More importantly, her boss calls her into his office to inform her she can come back to work in due course, when he doesn’t renew the contract for a fixed contract worker. It is a mirror to the situation she faced, particularly since the worker who would lose his job mulled a similar consequence before deciding it was right to vote her way. Quite possibly her boss Dumont (Batiste Sornin) knows this, and he hoped for precisely such a means of regaining control of worker morale through exposing her own shortcomings. Through rejecting the option, Sandra embraces an inclusive regard for humanity her working environment has vied to eliminate. She moves a step closer to the envied bird singing merrily in the tree.


I was given pause a couple of times by the Two Days, One Night’s incidental choices. More than once, I expected a woman answering the door to assume her husband was having an affair with Sandra (it is Marillion Cotillard, after all) and I questioned the wisdom of showing this hard-up couple spending the entire weekend eating out or buying takeaway. Sandra’s depression also appears to be presented in a rather simplistic manner (she has turned a corner in the last scene; “I’ll start looking today. We put up a good fight”). Nevertheless, this is an engrossing picture and Cotillard richly deserved her Oscar nod. While the scenario may feel contrived, the moral realm it explores is both fascinating and affecting.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.

A subterranean Loch Ness Monster?

Doctor Who The Silurians No, I’m not going to refer to The Silurians as Doctor Who and the Silurians . I’m going to refer to it as Doctor Who and the Eocenes . The Silurians plays a blinder. Because both this and Inferno know the secret of an extended – some might say overlong – story is to keep the plot moving, they barely drag at all and are consequently much fleeter of foot than many a four parter. Unlike Malcolm Hulke’s sequel The Sea Devils , The Silurians has more than enough plot and deals it out judiciously (the plague, when it comes, kicks the story up a gear at the precarious burn-out stage of a typical four-plus parter). What’s most notable, though, is how engaging those first four episodes are, building the story slowly but absorbingly and with persuasive confidence.

Suspicions of destiny. We all have them. A deep, wordless knowledge that our time has come.

Damien: Omen II (1978) (SPOILERS) There’s an undercurrent of unfulfilled potential with the Omen series, an opportunity to explore the machinations of the Antichrist and his minions largely ignored in favour of Final Destination deaths every twenty minutes or so. Of the exploration there is, however, the better part is found in Damien: Omen II , where we’re privy to the parallel efforts of a twelve or thirteen-year-old Damien at military school and those of Thorn Industries. The natural home of the diabolical is, after all, big business. Consequently, while this sequel is much less slick than the original, it is also more engaging dramatically.