In Fred Zinnermann’s classic 1952 Western High Noon, we witness the slow-burn unfolding of tension and drama as Gary Cooper’s town marshal attempts to round up neighbours and fellow townspeople to help him defend himself against a criminal that he brought to justice. As the taut drama unfolds, and as Cooper goes from door-to-door seeking guns, the audience slowly realises that he is to be left to defend himself alone.
Fast-forward a couple of hundred years to recession-hit Belgium, and directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have recreated the same atmosphere for Two Days, One Night. Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a factory worker who has to fight to keep her job after her 16 colleagues were forced to vote whether to forgo their annual bonus of €1,000 or let Sandra keep her job. Following an original vote in favour of keeping their bonus, there is to be a recount, and Sandra has the weekend to convince her co-workers to vote in favour of her.
Sandra, recovering from a serious episode of depression and popping Xanex on a far too regular basis, much to the despair of husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), is played superbly by Cotillard. The despair felt by the character is reflected totally in her whole body, her shoulders rounded and her face weatherbeaten, struggling to hold on to her dignity. Realism is brought to the film by handheld camerawork, and there is a real sense of a first person perspective as the focus is almost entirely on Sandra.
As Sandra goes from door to door, asking her colleagues to give up €1,000, we are posed a series if questions – the most obvious being what would we do in a similar circumstance? Struggling to make ends meet, most of her colleagues need the bonus in order to pay rent, or feed their children. If Sandra is successful, how can she continue to work around those that she has essentially begged in front of?
The film ends in a surprisingly uplifting way, though for totally unexpected reasons. However, it is not necessarily the outcome that the audience is interested in, but the human traits shown by the film’s characters. The relationship between Manu and Sandra is intriguing, as he supports her completely, perhaps without, as Sandra suspects, ever totally loving her. An immersive, tense and subtly thrilling relationship.
Two Days, One Night continues to run at the Watershed until 3 September.