Marion Cotillard has a bad case of ennui. Real bad. So bad that she had to spend four months in the funny farm getting semi-un-ennui-ed (constructions like this is why robots will never speak English) only to find on the eve of returning to work, that her co-workers have opted to have her position eliminated rather than lose their year-end bonus.
She has 2 Days, 1 Night (or Deux jour, une nuit in the original, apparently inaccessible French) to reverse that vote!
Usually, when I say "I know, right? French!" in these reviews. I'm referring to some sort of sexual deviance that has been normalized by our frisky Gallic pals, but in this case, let us ponder the situation of a heroine who has been collecting a paycheck for doing nothing for four months, but for whom we are supposed to root, as she goes to inflict hardship on each of her co-workers, both emotionally and financially, after a four month period where her absence was already presumably a problem.
I know, right? French! Or more accurately, Belgian, but French Belgian, not the cool Flemish Belgian.
It's a testament to the Dardenne brothers (The Kid With A Bike) that this works at all.
@uncommentari once mentioned, in reference to some of the more difficult movies The Boy and I see, some puzzlement over the fact that we seem to enjoy these experiences, many of which cannot be considered pleasant. Well, sometimes we do and sometimes we don't, depending on the skill of the participants, the purpose of the unpleasantness, and the attitude of the execution.
For example, some horror movies are just unpleasant because it's easier to be unpleasant than scary and they don't really know the difference. I don't want to go see Haneke (The White Ribbon, Amour) movies because his goal seems to be punishing the audience. (Not enlighten or cause to empathize, but just punish.)
This is not the most unpleasant of film experiences but, let me tell you, you will feel all 90 minutes of it, as Sandra (Cotillard) drags herself across the countryside from family to family, humiliated and depressed the whole way.
It works, though, because Sandra isn't looking for pity. Ultimately she's just asking her co-workers to fire her to her face, which is something you should be able to do, if you're going to be voting to fire people. It's hard, but it has a heroic character to it as, let's face it, she hasn't really shaken her ennui, popping Xanax like Tic-Tacs.
But she has a character arc, Hollywood-ized up a bit, and you do end up liking her. (Cotillard has an extra barrier to deal with in my case, since people have been gushing about her since La Vie En Rose, which was really unpleasant.) I wondered if perhaps the Dardennes had actually told everyone else to dial back the acting, since this is the Marion Show, and even though her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione, The Kid on a Bike) is constantly around, he's just very low key.
I could understand "keeping it together", of course, but he never seems to look like he's suppressing any emotion, just that he's—well, he comes off sort of dumb, somehow. Your mileage may vary.
The other actors are fine and the ending is satisfying (though perhaps not with the same resonance to an American), and I ultimately walked away from this pondering the socialist/Cotillard balance of our critic class. 'cause ultimately, they love this film, even though it's a pretty damning indictment of socialism.
Sure, you could say the evil capitalist (a solar panel manufacturer) forced his employees to make an inhuman choice, but it's actually pretty clear by the end that it was necessary to cut costs, and Sandra's four month paid vacation made it clear that 16 people could do the job as well as 17.
But a running theme throughout the movie is that people don't want to be on the dole. It's shameful. It's degrading. The big threat for Sandra and Manu is that they'll have to move back to whatever the Belgian equivalent of The Projects is.
And these are all skilled laborers. Welding is mentioned at one point, though I'm not sure it's what they all do. But these skilled laborers are agonizing over 1,000€, which means they're all torturing themselves over the equivalent of $300-$600 (after taxes, which are obscene in Belgium).
Meanwhile, a bunch of them do stuff "on the black", presumably working illegally, doing things like repairing cars or stocking shelves or whatever. The Dardennes may think they're being critical of capitalism, but they're honest enough to just tell the story and let you think and feel what you want.
My initial thought was that management that forces workers to choose between co-workers and bonuses (a real thing) are terrible management (and the movie paints considerable ambiguity on the who-did-what-to-whom plot points) but then I thought, well, why not force workers to make the hard choices that have to be made?
Especially in socialist countries where "management" is painted as the enemy of "labor" (as if they were different), I can see a certain value in forcing childish we-should-all-be-hired-forever-with-pay-raises-and-ponies to make the hard calls.
Fortunately, all that is incidental to the real story, which is about Sandra. And which is good.
But not easy to watch.