Movie review: Import "Two Days, One Night" is beautiful in its simplicity

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

I grumble a lot about the inside politics and self-congratulatory nature of the Academy Awards, but I have to give some credit. They do give a spotlight on some movies that a lot of people would miss without a nod.

So while the Belgian import “Two Days, One Night” was one of the more WTF snubs in the Best Foreign Language Film category, star Marion Cotillard did get a Best Actress nod. The performance is certainly deserving, but so is the movie.

Sandra (Cotillard) works for a solar panel company. Or, rather, she did, as she learns that she has been laid off as the result of a vote by her co-workers, who opted to accept individual bonuses instead of saving her job.

When her boss agrees to hold a second ballot, Sandra has one weekend to meet with her coworkers and plead her case.

This deceptively simple premise is executed brilliantly by co-writers/directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. There isn’t a simpler story that milks such emotional richness in recent memory.

Not that there’s anything simple about the prospect of a job loss. As real-life scenarios go, this is more relatable than most of what comes out of Hollywood. Sandra’s family is deeply working-class, and her husband Manu (an excellent Fabrizio Rongione) tries to help keep her moving forward. This is no easy feat.

And that’s because Sandra is a web of complexities, and Cotillard unpeels them like layers of an onion. It’s not a showy performance; it’s an uncannily realistic one.

And Cotillard fully embraces the great conundrums of the moral dilemma of the plot. Sandra understands both the importance of keeping her job — her family will have to return to public housing without it — but she also understands that she’s trying to convince her working-class coworkers to give up bonuses they also desperately need.

The moments of coldness and compassion that play out make for a film experience far more complex than the plot suggests. There are way better reasons to see “Two Days, One Night” than being an Oscar completist, but if that gets you there, I’ll take it.

"Two Days, One Night"

Opens Friday at the Gateway

3 1/2 stars out of 4