The Film: Deux Jours, Une Nuit
What’s It About? Sandra, a young Belgian mother, discovers that her workmates have opted for a significant pay bonus, in exchange for her dismissal. She has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job.
Number of Oscar nominations: 1
Will It Win? Julianne Moore’s ascending of the steps to the podium on Sunday night seems assured, but it would be wonderful if the Academy chose Marion Cotillard’s magnificent performance as a woman who is forced to beg her co-workers to vote to keep her job.
Deux Jours, Une Nuit is a quiet film. There is no overwrought score swelling on the soundtrack to hammer home the film’s emotional beats. During many of the scenes you can hear traffic, telephones and machinery in the background, and the frame is almost always busy, as if to remind you that this is a movie about work, about our need for it, and the things we will do to keep a job. It’s set over the course of a weekend, but many of the characters are seen working – usually at jobs they’re doing on the side for cash. Their discomfiture at having to talk to their factory co-worker Sandra stems, no doubt, from what she represents: the unemployed reality that they could be facing.
As Sandra, Marion Cotillard gives what may be the best performance of her career (and that’s saying something). When she isn’t looking bedragged as she plods around the city talking to her co-workers, she’s curled up on her bed crying or popping anti-depressants in the bathroom. Cotillard is one of our most glamorous actresses, and it seems impossible to imagine her not turning heads, yet here she is in slovenly jeans and a t-shirt walking around the mundane streets of a mundane town, just another working schmo trying her best.
It’s a very non-actory performance with no hint of artifice. Cotillard slumps her shoulders and hangs her head; the burden of her depression and her economic status is almost too much. I think the film is as much about the debilitating effect of depression as it is about job insecurity. She only smiles a handful of times, and the film times those moments perfectly. She carries on, though, and is encouraged by her husband Manu (a sympathetic Fabrizio Rongione).
Made by the Dardenne brothers, Deux Jours, Une Nuit has a fairly simple structure: Sandra meets co-worker. Sandra begs co-worker to vote to give up their bonus. Co-worker agrees/disagrees. Repeat.
I was about halfway through when I realised why the film was so affecting (apart from Cotillard’s performance, of course). It’s because the film has the plot of High Noon. Just as Gary Cooper goes around town asking for help (and not receiving it), Sandra is working against the clock as she tries to convince her colleagues to do the right thing.
But what is the right thing? Which is better, take a €1000 bonus – which will put clothes on your kids’ backs or pay the gas and electricity for a year – or give it up so someone else can keep their job? One of the film’s strengths is that although it is obviously on Sandra’s side, it makes it clear that everyone is caught in a horrible economic trap.
Although it looks like a simple film, it is shot with care. In many of the scenes Sandra is put ironically on the stronger, left side of the frame even though she is usually losing the argument. There is almost always a division of some sort between her and the other character.
And many of the scenes are also shot in one take, although in a very non-showy way. Fuck you, Birdman.
Cotillard’s nomination is not a surprise; what is astonishing is that Deux Jours, Une Nuit is not nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. This is one of the finest films of 2014.
Verdict: Four Xanax Pills out of Five