In Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Two Days, One Night, Time Out‘s Dave Calhoun finds a “cast-iron sense of purpose, searing relevance and understanding of how tough it is for all of us, especially the less well-off, to do the right thing in our everyday lives. It features a career-high performance from Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard… and has a starting-gun premise: a young mother, Sandra (Cotillard), recently off work with depression, is made redundant from a small factory that makes solar panels. In her absence, 14 of her 16 colleagues have voted to take their bonuses (around 1,000 euros each) rather than let her keep her job. But willed into action by a supportive husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), she persuades her boss to give her one last chance and to host a second vote round of voting two days later. Will she be able to save her job by knocking on doors over the weekend to persuade her colleagues to support her?”
“Two Days may be dismissed by some as more of the same from the Belgian siblings who rarely stray far from the industrial port town of Seraing,” grants Scott Foundas, who also interviews Cotillard for Variety. “Yet within their circumscribed world, the Dardennes once again find a richness of human experience that dwarfs most movies made on an epic canvas.” Still, “the film is anything but a heavy-handed ‘issue’ movie, right up to a deftly orchestrated conclusion that manages to affirm the Dardennes’ fundamental belief in the goodness of people while suggesting that the struggle of the working class is never over.”
“Setting aside the fact that it comes across as a sun-dappled sister film to their 1999 masterpiece, Rosetta, Two Days, One Night is also the brothers’ cunning riposte to any and all accusations of repetition,” argues David Jenkins at Little White Lies. “Down to the marrow of its subject matter, this is a film which examines the notion that, if one is fully-attuned to fine nuance, that genuine repetition is in fact beyond the capabilities of the human body and mind. If you’re seeing the same film ad infinitum, you’d probably do well to look a little closer.”
For the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, Two Days is “impassioned, exciting and moving—a Twelve Angry Men of the 21st-century workplace…. The Dardennes have made a brilliant social-realist drama with a real narrative tension which is something of a novelty in their work.”
“If the Dardennes’ last film, The Kid with a Bike, was their modern-day reworking of Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves, consider this their Umberto D,” suggests the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. “It’s a film about the dignity that meaningful work confers; and the way in which an economic downturn can effect other equally ruinous slumps, both social and emotional. Cotillard is just superb here, and the strongest contender yet for this year’s Best Actress award at Cannes.”
“Less out of pride than her own battered self-belief, Sandra refuses to plead or seek pity,” notes David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. “She says little of the difficulty of raising her two kids (Pili Groyne, Simon Caudry) on her husband’s wage as a cook, or of the likelihood of having to move the family back into welfare housing. Instead she simply presents her case, appealing to her colleagues’ sense of decency and pointing out the unfairness of the firm’s foreman (Olivier Gourmet, another Dardennes favorite) making their decision into an either/or proposal. Editor Marie-Hélène Dozo uses the repetitive aspect of these visits to instill a gentle but urgent rhythm in the superbly modulated story.”
“Shot mostly by day, in stark and sometimes mocking summer sunlight, Two Days, One Night refuses to divide the ayes and nays into goodies and baddies,” adds Lee Marshall in Screen Daily. “The simple choice between ‘Sandra’ and ‘bonus’—as written on the final ballot paper—may be an unlikely scenario, but the Dardennes suggest that it’s one that many workers are forced to make in a less direct way.”
Domenico La Porta at Cineuropa: “The direction, which always favors a documentary style and the work of the Dardennes’ over-the-shoulder camera that hardly ever gets put down (as well as that of their cinematographer, Benoît Dervaux), contributes a great deal to its bundle of original elements, starting with the lighting, which gives off a profound sense of optimism, the musical sequences (primarily through the car radio, but featuring an all-embracing usage to give a type of soundtrack) and even a certain humorous frivolity (‘Are you a Jehovah’s Witness?’). These are features that we hadn’t got used to in their previous social and visceral brand of cinema. More than ever, Two Days, One Night is a committed, left-leaning film, which will be released almost strategically on Belgian (and French) screens before the 25 May elections.”
“Two Days, One Night continues a tendency last seen in The Kid with a Bike in which the directors aim for a sense of uplift less blatant in earlier work like L’Enfant, Rosetta and Lorna’s Silence,” writes Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. “But these aren’t your average crowdpleasers. With no soundtrack or melodramatic confrontations, the Dardennes plunge viewers into a terrifying world of unknown variables.”
At CineVue, though, John Bleasdale finds the that the film’s “optimism is desperate. By no means the Dardennes’ best work, one wonders if they shouldn’t perhaps stray outside of their comfort zone.”
Anne Thompson reports on the press conference.
Updates, 5/21: “The Dardennes are like deeply empathetic automatons of cinematic excellence,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve. “It’s almost annoying, frankly…. Cannily, the brothers have made Sandra not some go-getting Erin Brockovich/Norma Rae type, but a woman who’s still battling depression and sometimes barely even has the energy to stand, much less beg for what seems to her like charity…. I tend to bridle when the word ‘humanism’ gets tossed around in film reviews, but the extent to which Two Days, One Night (which deserves a less prosaic title) embraces humanity, in all its alternately affirming and debilitating messiness, genuinely feels profound. At this moment, I feel like it may be the Dardennes’ best film to date.”
At the Film Stage, Peter Labuza agrees that “once again, the most exciting filmmakers in world cinema have crafted a staggeringly transcendent Parable of the Poor—a view into the dichotomy of work and grace, along with the emergence of self-worth. If one must necessarily ask what is ‘new’ here, it’s that the Dardennes are becoming filmmakers who are abandoning some of their rough-and-tumble style for a cleaner, more elegant form of storytelling, aesthetics, and performance.”
The AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd: “What’s remarkable is that the Dardennes never reduce any of these characters to heartless villains; each has his or her good reason to vote for the bonus, the loud-and-clear message being that it’s the company and management who have engineered this lose-lose situation. That makes Two Days, One Night the rare film about our new financial age to resist cynicism.”
Guy Lodge at In Contention: “The brothers have always had a collective eye for great faces—they’re the ones who made Émilie Dequenne and Jérémie Renier, after all—but their becomingly modest tales of urban-fringe survival have never seemed especially suited to famous ones. Cotillard’s singular radiance, however, makes her the ideal lead for the Dardennes’ latest hard-luck snapshot.”
The Dardennes “pull off an astonishingly satisfying somersault as their dismount,” finds Jessica Kiang at the Playlist, “a simple moment in which we suddenly realize that the film we’ve been enjoying as a multi-layered ethical parable to that point was in fact also something much simpler and more human all along: the story of a broken woman’s journey back to herself. It’s nothing as simplistic as a happy ending, but it couldn’t be more uplifting and affecting, and we left the theater with our hearts nearly bursting.”
“To her great credit, Cotillard disappears completely into the role,” writes Barbara Scharres at RogerEbert.com. “This is not a slumming turn by an international star, but an appropriately underplayed performance. Sandra’s need may be the driving mechanism of the plot, but the collective economic circumstances of the ensemble of workers portrayed remain the focus of the film.”
Aurore Engelen interviews the Dardennes for Cineuropa.
Updates, 5/24: “A cruel plot, to be sure, Oharu-like, and unlike the usually compassionate Dardennes, forcing this actress and this character on such a harsh journey that we assuredly know the ending of once we know the beginning,” writes Daniel Kasman in the Notebook. “But the Dardennes, they know cinema.”
Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: “Two Days, One Night has much to recommend it, including an expressive, exact sense of time and place and the way the Dardennes transform politics… into an urgent narrative. At the same time, the casting of a star like the fine Marion Cotillard, as a worker who has to fight to keep her job, is a distraction that remains, despite the beauty of the Dardennes’ direction and their ideals.”
Mary Corliss for Time: “This race-against-time scenario lends an urgency to the socialist maxim, ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to her need,’ that is at the heart of the Dardennes’ concern. This might be a provocative film with any leading lady. With Cotillard—looking fatigued yet fabulous in tank tops and jeans as Sandra makes her desperate rounds—it is also an actor’s triumph.”
“I was at first wary of Two Days, One Night because I resist movies that signal their humanism rather than just create the space for it to thrive,” writes the Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek. “But the Dardennes won me over this time, for a few reasons: They had the audacity to take a moment that surely seemed headed for dramatic overkill and turn it into a marvelous, if somewhat darkly shaded, joke…. And they made the choice of casting Cotillard, who appears in at least one film every year at Cannes. Shouldn’t we be sick of her by now? But she has become a master of the stealth surprise, coming up with something new and wonderful pretty much every time she’s onscreen.”
“The realism in [the Dardennes’] masterpieces used to be seeing in the dark,” writes Wesley Morris at Grantland. “But they’re finding ways to be just as morally powerful working in the light.”
“The biggest surprise about Two Days, One Night isn’t that Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have made their most openly political film in years, but that they’ve made one of their least morally nuanced.” Budd Wilkins elaborates at the House Next Door.
“Two Days, One Night is a solid 80 minutes of equivocation,” writes Jordan Hoffman for Vanity Fair. “A Talmudic discussion asking, ‘What is right?’ The final 15 minutes are revelatory and perfect and just about the most cathartic conclusion I’ve seen to a film in a year.”
It “isn’t about something as simple as her learning to stand up to the man,” writes Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed. “It’s about rejecting the narrative the company’s giving them.”
Update, 5/28: “Could Sandra be ‘Rosetta’ 15 years later?” asks Marie-Pierre Duhamel in the Notebook. “Between 1999 and 2014, the Dardenne Bros have walked a line first designed in La promesse: an exploration of parenthood, an étude about fathers and sons / wives and husbands in the most (updated, if one may say) contemporary territories of destitution and survival. Two Days One Night is a comeback and an update of the ‘Rosetta question’: how far the ‘system’ and its masters can push their slaves into disgrace, having them give up their last treasure, be it their dignity, their self esteem, some basic moral courage or their simple will to remain awake.”
Update, 6/2: “What’s fascinating about the film is how perspectives continuously shift,” writes Jordan Cronk at Reverse Shot: “as a viewer we’re ostensibly asked to sympathize with Sandra… and yet each successive encounter presents to the viewer an entirely new dilemma… The way the Dardennes foster this empathy, without allowing Sandra to wallow in self-pity—if anything, she refuses to beg, never resorting to negotiation—granting her the strength to exhibit grace during a final moral crisis of her own, further confirms their unyielding faith in human resilience and righteousness.”
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