In Two Days, One Night, Sandra (Marion Cotillard) is a wife, mother of two, and is freshly trying to come out of a nervous breakdown. When she arrives back home from the hospital, she discovers that she has been laid off. Her boss had her work department vote to either keep her or lay her off to get substantial bonus. Sandra spends the weekend going to the houses of her co-workers asking for them to vote to keep her as her boss has granted her a new vote with a secret ballot. Her husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), supports her, encourages her, and in some ways pushes her to her limit because without her job they wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.
I don’t want to mention more of the plot than that. The film speaks on depression in the most brutally human and honest ways. What grabbed me about this very simple film is the way the Dardenne brothers portray moments and in the way Marion Cotillard crafts them in her character.
The film is replete with slices of the every day, especially the mundane. From the sounds of traffic as Sandra looks on gutted by her predicament, to the camera gazing at her as she makes her children’s beds, this is cinema verité at its strongest. Cotillard is visibly smaller than the world around her, accentuating a vulnerability in her large eyes, tired and full of strife. She transforms herself into Sandra, defeated by her condition, but trying her best to overcome it. There are many scenes in which she shines in her believability, but one scene in particular grabbed me right in the gut.
Sandra goes on to see one of the final people on her list to keep her job. A little girl answers the door buzzer. As Sandra inquires about her mother, she can hear her mother giving the child instructions on what to say. Cotillard’s face transforms from inquisitive to instant shock realizing that her co-worker doesn’t want anything to do with her. It’s already enough that through her depression Sandra feels like nothing, but in that moment, Sandra becomes nothing to this person. Those few seconds extoll the true craftsmanship Cotillard brings to the big screen.
Many might find that the ending is uplifting, maybe by interpreting it as Sandra finally finding a balance to get on with what she needs to do. I find this to be a misinterpretation, but mostly because of my own experience with depression. Throughout the film, Sandra reveals a helplessness and lack of control over her situation. She spontaneously breaks down into tears or can only find respite by staying in bed or overindulging in her medication. The cycle of depression isn’t necessarily one of a final breakthrough though. As Manu keeps telling her that she will heal once she gets back to work, these are just words of selfish expectation, not of truth. Depression is a condition that is part of a sufferer’s resilience and strength. For some it may fade in pieces and for others it is eternally chronic. Because this is a film is made up of moments in Sandra’s life, seconds of Sandra’s life (from the air she breathes in sunshine to get rid of a panic attack to the dull eyed look at the cashier at the convenience store), the final moments of the film, reveal a moment of triumph; not one of complete change. In that moment personal victory, Sandra experiences a minute of static hope and if anything, hope is the biggest conqueror of a despairing condition. Sandra finds something within herself to make plans for the next minutes and even for the next day.
Cotillard combined with the masterful writing and direction of the Dardenne brothers have crafted the most realistic view of a woman, a mother, an individual battling the mental darkness that holds her back for any small bit of sunshine to go on. I highly recommend this film to everyone, not just to the ones that have been there.