Brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have always given us extraordinarily moving pieces of cinema. Two-times Palm d’Or winner (Rosetta, 1999 and The Child, 2005), they have also given us films like Lorna’s Silence and The Kid with a Bike – gripping social dramas set in their native Belgium.
Their latest work, Two Days and One Night, which competed at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival
, is a haunting document of how a society can come together to face odds posed by the monstrosities of consumerism.
Sandra (essayed by Marion Cotillard, who portrayed a whale trainer in the 2012 Cannes entry, Rust & Bone) is about to lose her position in a solar energy factory, which is struggling against fierce Asian competition. Her boss tells his 16 employees that if Sandra were to keep her job, they would have to forego their bonuses. Sandra and her colleague convince the boss to hold a second referendum on Monday, and she has two days and a night to try and plead her case with her co-workers.
The Dardenne Brothers script a riveting story, with entirely different situations that take Sandra to almost every colleague of hers that Saturday and Sunday. Some see her, some refuse to speak to her, some plead their inability to give up their bonus. One woman splits from her husband, because he opposes her idea of giving up that extra 1000 Euros. Sandra meets one of the colleagues on a football ground, another in a supermarket, where he is trying to earn extra bucks by working the weekend.
Besides, these delightfully novel ways of pushing the story – with each meeting that Sandra has with her co-workers being narrated differently – the social relevance of the movie fascinates. And while the outcome of the referendum is never very clear, what is most touching is the way Two Days And One Night ends. It is not just a great twist, but a poignant way of telling us how caring human beings could be.
While this latest Cannes competitor may not be as gloriously energetic as The Kid with the Bike was, Cotillard’s performance infuse a kind of raw passion into the plot. As the woman fighting to save her job, a job that her family so desperately needs, she is just marvellous, especially in those scenes when despair beats her down.
Gender issues may seem simplified, even clichéd, but the picture works up to a subtly dramatic high, and teaches us that in the ultimate analysis “no man, no woman, no company and no country” could ever hope to be an island. (Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, and he may e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)