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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Five Reasons to See TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT

Courtesy of Sundance Selects
By Joshua Handler

I normally don't write pieces on films I've already reviewed other than the occasional interview, but I feel that it is of paramount importance that audiences see Two Days, One Night (my review), the latest film from master directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Rosetta, The Kid with a Bike).  The film follows Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a depressed working-class woman who must try to convince her co-workers to give up their bonuses in order for her to keep her job over the course of one weekend.  Usually, the Dardennes don't work with A-list actors, but with Two Days, One Night, they decided to make an exception and have Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard lead the film.  This unholy pairing of director and actress has created one of the most moving, humane, and suspenseful films of 2014.  Here are my five reasons as to why you should see it:

1) Marion Cotillard - There is no doubt Two Days, One Night would've been good with another actress in the lead, but one of the main reasons why it reaches greatness is because of Marion Cotillard.  When performing in an American indie or in French, Cotillard loses herself in her role.  While Cotillard loses her makeup and fancy clothing in Two Days, One Night, that is the least of why her performance is so powerful and profound.  Cotillard gives a face to working class women everywhere.  Sandra is full of guilt and self-doubt, but is always working for a noble cause: the well-being of her family.  Cotillard's expressive face says more than words ever could.  Take the opening scene - Sandra receives a call from a friend telling her that she's been fired.  She barely says a word, yet we can see by the tortured look on her face that something is wrong.  Sandra bursts into tears upon hearing this piece of news, yet by the way that Cotillard portrays it, it seems as if one of these meltdowns is normal for her (which would make sense given that she's depressed).  It is subtle pieces of Cotillard's performance like this that send it into the ranks with Meryl Streep's performance in Sophie's Choice and Vivien Leigh's in A Streetcar Named Desire.

2) The Dardennes' Mastery of Filmmaking - No one makes films like Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.  They manage to capture small moments of grace and beauty in hardship, yet they never exploit their characters or the people they represent.  The Dardennes' respect and admiration for their characters is remarkable and on full display in Two Days, One Night.  They find honor and worth in the simple, humble lives of their characters.  And, in Two Days, One Night, there is a distinct lack of sentimentality.  The Dardennes trust Cotillard's ample abilities and the power of real life to carry the film's emotion.  They know that there is no need to artificially create emotions when their lead actress and the inherent drama in their story can create real ones to move the audience.

3) The Characters - As mentioned above, the characters in Two Days, One Night (and any other Dardenne film for that matter) pop off of the screen.  One of the most admirable aspects of Two Days, One Night is the portrayal of Sandra's husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione).  In films like this, the husband is typically a terrible person.  However, Manu is loving, caring, and Sandra's biggest supporter.  It's refreshing to see a husband on film whose love and faith in his wife don't waver.  Because of the Dardennes' naturalistic dialogue and the actors' energy and raw talent, every character, however small, is complex and infinitely compelling.

4) It is a Welcome Alternative to Traditional Holiday Films - With typical awards films like Unbroken and Into the Woods (both good films) releasing on Christmas, it can get a little repetitive watching massive spectacles.  Two Days, One Night is the antithesis of the studio awards film.  This is a little low-budget gem with a big enough heart to compensate for the pounding that the cold, heartless blockbusters have given us over the past 11 months (though I will say that blockbusters have been unusually heartfelt this year).  Not to mention, with Unbroken and Into the Woods being as dark as they are, it's nice to find a film like Two Days, One Night that truly will make you smile.  As dark as Two Days, One Night can be, it's ultimately a film about hope in the face of adversity, making it uplifting and inspirational.

5) It Will Satisfy Everyone - As a friend of mine pointed out following the New York Film Festival screening of Two Days, One Night, this is a film that will transcend the language barrier.  Two Days, One Night's themes are so universal and the characters are so real and relatable that just about everyone will connect to it.  Cotillard's performance is so immersive that it alone would convince just about anyone to care for her plight.  One of the most brilliant aspects of Two Days, One Night is the Dardennes' reluctance to end it in a conventional manner.  The way in which they end Two Days, One Night is deeply beautiful and far more satisfying and profound than if any other filmmaker(s) had made it.  Two Days, One Night is a realist David and Goliath tale, something that nearly everyone loves.  This film has something for everyone.  There's unbearable suspense, a strong romance at the core of the film, and more than enough drama to satisfy even the most jaded filmgoers.  And the Dardennes' exploration of the morality of Sandra's situation will cause hours worth of dinnertime conversation after the movie is over.  

Two Days, One Night is one of the few films this year that I wouldn't hesitate to call a masterpiece.  I've screened it three times, each time marveling more at the brilliance of the filmmaking and acting on display.  Two Days, One Night will be considered an "arthouse" film because it will only open in limited release at arthouse theaters, yet it is anything but.  Two Days, One Night is a universal film with themes of love, hope, and sacrifice that will go down as a highlight in the distinguished careers of The Dardennes and Marion Cotillard.

Two Days, One Night opens today, December 24, in New York City.

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