Film Reviews


By • Nov 30th, 2014 •

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A stunning performance by Cotillard and a moral dilemma aptly presented.

A few years ago I read – but could not find by hunting on Google – a news article about a town in France where employees were asked to vote on a proposed plan: (1) all employees would continue to be employed but work only part-time for half pay insuring everyone kept their jobs or (2) half would be fired and the rest remain full-time for full pay. From what I recall of the article, seniority or position was not a factor. What do you think was the outcome of the vote?

Belgian writers-directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne have taken this dilemma and present it in a more personal way. Sixteen employees at a solar-panel factory were forced to vote on whether to give up their annual €1,000 bonuses so their fellow worker Sandra (Marion Cotillard) could keep her job or take the bonus and Sandra would lose her job.

Only two of Sandra’s fellow employees voted to give up their bonuses. Finding out that the plant foreman had pressured the workers to vote against her, Sandra and a friend beg the manager (Baptiste Sornin) for another, this time secret, ballot. On Friday afternoon he agrees and Sandra has the weekend to get a majority for Monday’s vote.
She must convince seven people to give up their bonus.

Sandra has an uphill battle. Her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) works as a cook in a fast food place. They have two children and have recently settled in a nice house and have gotten off “the dole”. Sandra has returned to work after a severe bout of depression and is clearly not up to the task of her labor-intensive job. She swallows Xanax like candy. The company hired a short-term contract worker (Serge Koto) in her place.

With the exception of Sandra’s friend and co-worker Juliette (Catherine Salee), the bonus means a great deal to all of the workers.

Sandra finds it very hard to plead for her job. Every employee has planned for the bonus and in some cases desperately need it.

I am offering Timur Magomedgadzhiev for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Why are the nominees for Best Supporting Actor and Actress always movie stars taking second position? In his one scene, Magomedgadzhiev is thrilling. It is the kind of small yet powerful performance that should be acknowledged. I could not find out much about Magomedgadzhiev except that TWO DAYS ONE NIGHT is listed in his IMDb profile as his only film. With a major star (and Academy Award winner, to boot) headlining the film, how much time was spent directing Magomedgadzhiev in his brief scene? I doubt his performance was crafted in the editing room.

So TWO DAYS ONE NIGHT offers up a moral conundrum that is rarely presented in the U.S. The Dardennes know this terrain and present it in an honest, forthright way. These low-income employees need the 1,000 euros. Each knows that Sandra will be coming to ask them to give up their bonus so she can keep her job. Some of them are blunt and ask, “Why should I give up my bonus for you?”

Sandra has a supportive husband but their marriage is unusual for U.S. audiences. Sandra takes buses to visit the workers and sometimes Manu drives her. Yes, he understands her humiliation but doesn’t offer to take more shifts at work. Sandra must do her equal part in earning a paycheck for the family. It’s her crisis to deal with.
Marion Cotillard is now an in-demand actress appearing in Hollywood blockbuster movies. In TWO DAYS, she sheds all vanity. Her hair is a mousy brown mess held in a quick pony-tail by a crunchie. Sandra cannot bother with makeup through her tears and shame. She does change her t-shirts but that is about all she does. Cotillard gives a dynamic performance ranging from rage to shame to acceptance. It is very hard for Sandra to beg for her job especially since she has been gone for a period of time and hasn’t formed many solid relationships.

The Dardennes do not compromise and give us a realistic look at low-income life and its challenges.

TWO DAYS is impressively non-partisan since every person Sandra reaches out to has a good reason for needing the bonus and, as someone said a long time ago – “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The moral answer is of course “Yes” but the Lord does protect Cain – the first murderer – by promising sevenfold vengeance upon anyone who might try to kill him and even gives Cain a mark to insure his safety. Cain’s life only gets better once he is banished from Paradise.

That French town? They voted for half to be fired.

Member of Boadcast Film Critics Association:

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at

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