Two Days, One Night **** (out of five)
The Dardenne brothers have a swathe of awards and some pretty amazing films to their credit including The Kid With a Bike and L’Enfant, but Two Days, One Night will almost certainly be their most accessible film, partly because they have a true international movie star – Marion Cotillard – as their lead and partly because their thrilling, suspenseful plot is just so damn good.
Talk about a lesson in pure screenwriting. Within the first three minutes of the film we meet Sandra (Cotillard) and discover that she’s losing her job – unless she can persuade the majority of her sixteen colleagues to forego their annual bonuses, which will, in effect, subsidise keeping her on. It’s Friday afternoon and a vote will be held Monday morning. She has two days and one night (starting the next morning) to go see as many of them as possible and convince them to, essentially, act against their own best interests for her sake. Nothing is on her side, in particular suspense’s greatest ally, time.
The rest of the details emerge more gradually, but only just – everything in this film is urgent. The Dardenne’s are absolute masters of “show, don’t tell” and the way Sandra’s world is revealed – the extent of her family, what her job is, where she lives, and why she’s potentially on the chopping block – is as precise and delicate as a Matisse stroke. You find out what you need to know when you need to know, and you find out by way of a gesture, a look, a prop, a word. No-one ever speaks exposition. Characters speak when they have something to say.
Cotillard, in every scene and essentially every shot, is simply brilliant, and if she doesn’t get an Oscar nomination it’ll only be because of the modest nature of this sublime film. The large supporting cast are all unknown to me and literally perfect; the Dardennes’ style is hyper-realism and they all appear to have stepped out of life itself. And if the final scene doesn’t have you white-knuckling your armrest, you simply must be dead.