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Two Days, One Night review

Working for the weekend

With no bells, whistles or fanfare, the Dardenne brothers – Jean-Pierre and Luc – have been writing, producing and directing their own brand of Belgian naturalism since the ’90s. Before that they made documentaries. Ignored by the multiplexes, but loved by the critics, their modest, moving films sound eminently missable. Then you watch one...

Sandra (Marion Cotillard) has a loving husband, Manu (Dardenne regular Fabrizio Rongione), two happy kids, a house, a job, and crippling depression. There’s been a secret ballot at her work (a solar panel factory, where they manufacture a facsimile of the sunshine she lacks), forcing her colleagues to choose between keeping their bonuses, or her job. Sandra wants to give up, but Manu makes her visit each of her co-workers over the titular time period to make a case for clemency. “You’re letting yourself go,” he tells her, kindly, “react instead.”

Reluctantly, she sets out to speak to them, encountering false starts (some simply aren’t in), dignified indignation (“I didn’t vote against you,” one tells her, “I voted for my bonus.”) and the full spectrum of human emotions, all of them earned. To some it’s a practical issue – they need the money – to others it’s a moral one; either way, with Sandra in front of them it’s one that can’t be ignored.

As an ordinary woman on the edge, Cotillard is excellent, the camera rarely leaving her face as she cycles from deep despair to tiny triumphs. Although she takes almost an hour to crack a smile, we’re always invested in Sandra’s plight, and through glimpses of her colleagues’ differing home situations – many of which make hers look charmed – the film becomes more and more engrossing. There’s no music but what plays on the radio, and minimal camera movement. Just real-seeming people talking reasonably and a life, quietly, changed.

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Matt Glasby is a freelance film and TV journalist. You can find his work on Total Film - in print and online - as well as at publications like the Radio Times, Channel 4, DVD REview, Flicks, GQ, Hotdog, Little White Lies, and SFX, among others. He is also the author of several novels, including The Book of Horror: The Anatomy of Fear in Film and Britpop Cinema: From Trainspotting To This Is England.