Two Days, One Night

This latest from Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the directing duo known for no-frills social realism of refreshing truthfulness, stars Marion Cotillard as an emotionally unstable woman who runs a gauntlet asking former solar panel factory workmates to buy back her job by forgoing their bonuses. This is the Dardenne version of a high concept. And Cotillard is unmistakably an international movie star, but also clearly one of the best movie actors in the world. In Two Days, One Night, her character’s campaign is both heroic and humiliating, its trajectory not at all predictable, and Cotillard’s grasp of the feedback-loop between precarious mental health and vocational irresolution is profound. The co-workers’ reactions, too, tend to be riveting; in one of the most heartrending scenes, one guy, openly ashamed at having opted for the bonus, bursts into tears almost as soon as he sees her. The movie has no fancy camera bullshit, no overwrought and music-stoked catharsis. It may be useful to think of it as a labor-relations variant of the legal procedural 12 Angry Men, or, as the Dardennes themselves have intimated, as a crypto-Western series of showdowns. And it may work as a dissertation on the trickling consequences of economic downturn, but what’s more important is that it works, bracingly, as a drama.