Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2014) 

Marion Cotillard in a scene from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Two Days, One Night {Photo: SUNDANCE SELECTS/IFC FILMS}

Marion Cotillard in a scene from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Two Days, One Night {Photo: SUNDANCE SELECTS/IFC FILMS}

Two Days, One Night screens on Thursday, October 16 and Sunday, October 19. More information can be found at the Chicago International Film Festival's website here. This is a capsule review. A full review will be published upon the film's United States theatrical release. 

We’re lucky if we have a life of perpetual high points. Or of doing something noteworthy every day. But the reality is that we embrace the routine. We crave structure. Two Days, One Night is about a woman whose routine, whose source of structure, is taken from her: she wakes up to the bad news that she has lost her job.

Marion Cotillard plays Sandra. Sandra discovers that a vote was cast at the small warehouse that employed her. Her coworkers were forced to decide between declining a thousand euro bonuses or to have her terminated. They voted in favor of the bonus, though not without some politicking on behalf of an employee, who perpetuated the notion that if Sandra isn’t the one to get laid off, someone else will. This sort of premeditated action is enough for Sandra and a fellow co-worker to appeal the decision to their boss. He agrees to a revote. It’s Friday. The revote is for Monday. Sandra now has the weekend to convince her coworkers to decline the bonus. From the start she has three votes. She needs an additional six.

Those are the details as they stand ten minutes into Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s masterwork. Like so many of their films, the details pour ceaselessly like a geyser of information, but never does it have the overt density of feeling like exposition. Their stylistic flourishes prevent that. What they do is simply present a reality that’s so closely related to our own that we become active observers to the pangs of their characters. From a youth’s attempt to find a job in Rosetta to a couple’s series of poor decisions in L’Enfant, the directors touch upon humanity’s dark spots, plotting simple stories around ordinary people and their decisions of immediate consequences. They understand that the greatest dramas come out of human tragedy and experiences - there’s no need to gloss up something that is already unnervingly raw.

Essential