With their particularly Belgian brand of social realism and a back catalogue garlanded with Palme d’Ors and oceans of critical praise, the Dardenne brothers stand firmly atop the pinnacle of art house cinema. Most actors would crawl through rusty nails to work with them at this point (they’ve all but singlehandedly forged careers for many in the past) and an exclamation mark-packed set of press notes for Two Days, One Night, their latest outing, shows that Marion Cotillard is no exception. Her enthusiasm and investment in the project is evident, it’s just a shame about pretty much everything else. I like the Dardennes as much as the next guy, but Two Days, One Night is aimless, depthless and face-poundingly dull.
Cotillard leads the line as a beleaguered, depression stricken mother who – faced with the impending loss of her job – is reduced to all but begging her various co-workers to renege their bonuses in exchange for keeping her on. It’s an unglamorous role, with Cotillard cutting a haggard figure as a woman desperately trying to claw her life back into shape. This is a film about the little people – bosses and superiors are only seen in brief flashes, or brushed over in conversation, their characters much more reflected in the muted worry clouding the faces of their employees. There’s almost an animalism to the cynical treatment of human weakness. Missteps will cost you dear in a world where everybody needs a paycheck, leaving little room for understanding or even baser humanity.
It’s an interesting idea – the pressures of those higher up the ladder beating everyone below them into nervous wrecks – but in reality it’s a one note concept. The film’s skimpy 90 minute runtime leaves it chronically short of depth, an issue only heightened by the excessive number of characters. Tasked with contacting 16 fellow employees over the course of less than an hour and a half, Cotillard’s character is only ever treated to formulaic, surface level, minimal exchanges, batting around a handful of all-too-familiar lines before moving onto the next round.
It may work nicely on paper, but it makes for repetitive and un-involving viewing. We hear pretty much the same conversation numerous times over the course of the film, a conversation that – while true to life – really doesn’t need to be heard on 14 separate occasions. Constellations found a way to make repetition work, but the dialogue here feels hastily written and swiftly slips into roboticism, leaving the screenplay feeling like a copy and paste job – you can call it a sophisticated stylistic choice all you want, it’s still ruddy boring.
The greatest films challenge and entertain you – Two Days, One Night does neither. Its treatise on the often despicably cut throat world of western employment is well-pitched, but the film swiftly runs out of things to say. It means well, but it doesn’t have the chops to do anything with its concept, creating scene after scene of muted drama devoid of punch and panache. It’s largely workmanlike, with Cotillard doing her best with a character whose past dealings with depression and the everyday struggle to make ends meet are only addressed through vagueries and near constant Xanax popping. She inhabits her role, but I’m still not sure what role it was that she was inhabiting. I never even worked out what this coveted job actually was.
Halve the cast list, double the runtime, spend less than a long weekend penning the script and you could have a film of real importance on your hands. As it is though, Two Days, One Night stands as an admirable, but near complete failure. I was rooting for this film, I like the Dardennes, and I – like most people with a pair of eyeballs – adore Marion Cotillard. The concept was interesting – heck, it even had Fabrizio Rongione, a Dardennes linchpin, leading up the supporting cast – but then the whole thing went nowhere. I take no pleasure in moaning about it, there is no joy amongst my disappointment, but I could never like a film that so piqued my interest, only to lazily pass me by.