The longest weekend

A quietly heroic working-class adventure

Two Days, One Night
Opens Friday, March 13. Starring Marion Cotillard. Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Pageant Theatre. Rated PG-13.
Rated 5.0

Marion Cotillard’s Oscar-nominated performance in the role of a working mother fighting to save her job is a major attraction in Two Days, One Night.

But this quietly urgent French-language film, set in Belgium, is no mere star vehicle.

Sandra Bya, the beleaguered working mom played by Cotillard, is the central force in a social drama that is both low key and surprisingly wide-ranging. Her dogged efforts, over the course of a single weekend, to stay employed supply the basic narrative momentum. But the variety of characters and situations she encounters in the process make the film into a sensitive and unexpectedly moving cross-section of working-class life.

The specific details of her dilemma are as follows: While Sandra is on sick leave after a bout of depression, her fellow employees are offered the chance to vote for or against a budgetary adjustment that would give each of them a bonus but would require the elimination of a single job (the absent Sandra’s). The employees vote for the bonus. When Sandra gets wind of this (on a Friday), she talks the bosses into holding a second vote on Monday and then proceeds, with the help of her husband and a friend or two, to lobby each of her co-workers over the two days and one night of the intervening weekend.

Sandra’s predicament is daunting and complicated, and her determination to do something about it is mildly surprising at first, and increasingly to her credit as the ebb and flow of her struggles intensifies. But Two Days, One Night is also about the diverse dilemmas and predicaments of her co-workers, most of whom are sympathetic to her, to one degree or another, and nearly all of whom are hemmed in by social and economic pressures similar to those that beset Sandra and her family.

One co-worker needs the bonus for his child’s tuition. Another bursts into tears when Sandra asks him to change his vote. Another reverses the vote her bullying husband had insisted on. The cumulative effect of Sandra’s doggedly diligent encounters is a kind of group portrait of families struggling to make ends meet even when both spouses have what appear to be full-time jobs.

Sandra’s weekend of grassroots/job-related lobbying has the makings of a discouraging slog, both for her and for audiences. But in the hands of the Franco-Belgian filmmaking brothers of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the quasi-pedestrian drama of Two Days, One Night comes forth as a curiously suspenseful, modestly heroic adventure.