‘Two Days, One Night — Review NZIFF

‘Two Days, One Night’ or ‘Deux Jours, une nuit’ in French, stars Marion Cotillard as Sandra, an employee at a solar panel manufacturing company who is fighting to keep her job. The basic plotline is (spoiler alert) that Sandra had a depressive breakdown sometime previously, now she has returned to work only for her boss to have scheduled a vote by her colleagues to choose between their annual bonuses and Sandra being layed off. 

The Friday vote went in favour of the bonuses and the film starts with Sandra reacting at home. Due to the efforts of a supportive co-worker the executive manager agrees to schedule another vote — this time by secret ballot — on Monday, noting that the supervisor (his specific position is never made clear) Jean-Marc may have been intimidating the employees into voting against Sandra. The stage is thus set for the struggle between Sandra, the hearts and minds of her co-workers, and her own fragile mental state. She remains reliant on anti-depressants.

Two Days, One Night is full of ironies. First there is the fact that Sandra is quite honestly terrified of losing her job because it would mean having to go on welfare. There is never a hint that the family would be out on the street in abject poverty. The safety net is there and yet not a comfort — Sandra would literally rather die than be on the dole. A second irony is the way bonuses are spoken about. Repeatedly when asked to support Sandra the co-workers say “I can’t lose my bonus!” As if you can lose something before having attained it. The bonuses seem to affect people personally, they have built an expectation that says they shall get that extra money and they’ve already spent it long before getting it. In a sense this sounds a bit like the criticisms of banking on credit. Spending money you don’t have today restricts you tomorrow. 

The moral struggle is evident. One co-worker bursts into tears as soon as Sandra asks for his support and assures her that he will give it. She was kind to him when he first started in the job and is distraught that their boss pressured him to vote no. I don’t want to go to far in describing these things for fear of ruining your experience, but I think my point is made.

Ultimately a major theme of this film is the power that people have to overcome the dehumanising effects of capitalism by seeing each other with the redeeming gaze of empathy. Some co-workers try to avoid Sandra when they know she is coming. They are on guard because they know their conscience will get the better of their greed if they allow themselves to see Sandra as she is. For her part Sandra does give up a few times, and is constantly plagued with doubt. Her resolution (spoiler alert again) is in managing to get eight of the sixteen employees to vote in her favour. Then, as she required a majority, she rejects the managers offer to bring her back in return for not renewing the fixed contract of one of the guys that voted for her. She walks out with her head held high, secure in the knowledge that she did all she could to keep the job. 

A fine film, and critically acclaimed it recently received the Sydney Film Prize at the Sydney Film Festival this year. I do find it a little odd that in France/Belgium (they aren’t ever specific about where the film is set) an employment dispute is negotiated without the slightest hint of a workers union. It really could have saved Sandra a lot of bother, but then I suppose she would not have come out the other side quite so emotionally galvanized and ready to find a new job. I definitely recommend this film, and for everyone 13+. There are so scares, thrills, or moments of gratuitous violence; but neither is there much in the way of romantic activity. So seeing this with mothers-in-law or sainted aunts will not be an embarrassing experience. 

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