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Two Days, One Night

Year: 2014
Production Co: Les Films du Fleuve
Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne
Writer: Jean-Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne
Cast: Marion Cotillard

A woman who works at a factory job in contemporary Belgium is let go because her co workers – who've been offered the choice of her staying or them getting much needed bonuses – voted against her, so she spends the weekend crisscrossing her hometown to ask them all to see her side and change their minds so she can keep her job.

Okay, so....?

While watching it I kept thinking of an idea attributed to screenwriting guru Robert McKee (actually Brian Cox playing him in Spike Jonze's Adaptation) where he talks about everything everywhere being a story – there's always someone falling in love, being heartbroken, or in this case losing their job and trying to get it back.

It's a story, sure, but does it make it interesting? Not being a Hollywood version of this same thing, writer/directors the Dardennes brothers (regular Cannes winners) and star Marion Cotillard as heroine Sandra don't have her make any grandstanding speeches about dignity or being made a statistic of the system. She just goes about her task, there's a slightly surprisingly denouement where she might be reaching some emotional closure or epiphany, and then the movie ends.

It's a little bit like the irritating co-worker or neighbour who, when you ask them how they've been, tells you. Even the title (referring to the amount of time related in the movie), feels like it's there because without some deeper subtext or theme nobody knew what to call it.

We all have struggles in life and despite the history of depression that gives Sandra an emotional dimension, the drama here is the domestic, everyday living kind, not the deep philosophical or psychological kind. Even as she tries to take an overdose of her medication and ends up in hospital it just feels like another speed bump to be got over in her and her family's day before she gets back to the task at hand.

All the people she approaches react very differently and each one gives the movie a slightly episodic feel, although some of their stories are woven skilfully enough throughout the rest of the proceedings.

But even though Cotillard is sublime on screen and makes mincemeat out of a character and story this slight and everything else is staged, performed and executed adequately, the overwhelming feeling I had from watching this was 'so what?'

The universal critical praise makes me think this is a film for Dardennes brothers fans who can appreciate it in their oeuvre of taking an unsentimental look at the working class. Anyone else will be waiting for robots or car chases. Maybe just a raised voice.

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