On Two Days, One Night

Two Days, One Night is the latest film from Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, the Belgian brothers who have brought to us a number of other great movies about working class francophone folk, such as The Kid with a Bike, The Child, and The Son. As those titles suggest, many of their movies are also about kids, and in that, this one is a bit of a departure. Marion Cotillard plays a woman who has just lost her job after being on sick leave a little too long, and in the interim the boss has decided to let the employees decide whether to vote themselves a bonus or let Sandra (Cotillard) keep her job.

It’s very good, I think my favorite so far by the Dardenne brothers (yes, I’ve seen almost all of them). It is certainly the most tightly scripted, written with the economy of one of Sophocles’ plays, and (spoiler alert!) somewhat less tragic. The dialogue is very precise, and very little is spoken that isn’t necessary to advance the story. At times a little more variation might have helped fill out some of the characters, since those include most of her co-workers in the solar panel factory where she works. Cotillard’s performance is perhaps the best of hers I’ve seen (unfortunately, I haven’t yet seen The Immigrant), and she’s been nominated for the Oscar for it. Also excellent is Fabrizio Rongione, who plays her husband. Actually, everybody’s good.

The two have a series of great exchanges, as she teeters on the edge of giving up all for lost and he urges her to do what she can to keep her job. One memorable exchange is filmed from the back seat of their car, what we might easily take to be their children’s point of view, which is just one of the ways the direction brings the viewer right into the working space of the film. There we see a number of different emotions fill Cotillard’s complex expression: resentment, sadness and defeat, all in the space of a few moments. This is easily one of the best portrayals of depression in the movies—less sighing and weeping than the repression of sighing and weeping, and a fair amount of anger that is at times expressed at those who are trying to help her, at other times directed towards herself. It ends the only way it really should end, which is to say it won’t disappoint.


  1. Broderick Barker says

    This guy seems to agree with you.

  2. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    I haven’t seen any Dardenne flicks yet (though The Kid with a Bike has been in my Netflix queue for a long time), but I do note that Dismal Scientist Tyler Cowen dissents from the critical near-consensus on the brothers’ latest:

    Two Days, One Night has some of the worst economics I have seen in a movie, ever. […] Everything in the workplace of this solar power company is zero-sum across the workers and we never see why. The protagonist campaigns to get her job back, but never asks or even considers how she might improve her productivity or attitude, asking only on the basis of need. (And she is turned down only on the basis of need.) At one point her employer states the zero marginal product hypothesis quite precisely, something like “when you took time off, we saw that sixteen people could do the work of seventeen.” She never asks if there might be some other way she could contribute — but she does need the money — nor does the notion of a better job match somewhere else rear its head. The depictions of financial hardship confuse wealth and income, basic survival and discretionary spending. The rave reviews this movie has received represent yet another Rorschach test and one which virtually every commentator seems to have failed.

    • Broderick Barker says

      Pish tosh. It is made perfectly clear that 16 can do the work of 17 only if everyone works longer hours: that is, if the company is able to demand more of its employees. It’s also made clear that there wasn’t a problem with her productivity or attitude. She had to take a leave – an authorized, approved leave – and in her absence, the bean counters moved against her. And the distinctions between basic survival and discretionary spending are also quite clear.

      • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

        Thanks, Broderick. I do so hate it when someone’s negative description of a thing he professes to dislike or reject (a movie, a theory, an argument, a religion) makes evident that he misunderstood the thing or ignored key facts about it. And I am ever so happy to see someone more attentive to the relevant details clear away the unfounded objections.

    • Quin Finnegan says

      I did think about some of the things Cowen brought up, but what I don’t think is that it’s a movie first and foremost committed to promulgating any specific view of economics. It’s the story of a woman battling depression and, with the help of family and friends, trying to change her attitude. Which is one of the things Cowen asks for—did he not see this?

      As I’ve said elsewhere, I grew up fairly well steeped in Austrian school economics, and I think I have a sympathetic ear. I think Libertarian economists will have more success if they sound less like scolds and listen more carefully to the beleaguered souls to whom they’re trying to appeal.
      Since the Mercatus Center and their ilk are often accused of heartlessness, they might then consider how to make their message more sympathetic to voters who are able to put Mercatus minded policies into place.

  3. She was good in Dark Knight Blowing Up Gotham or whatever that shit was called.


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