After a brief absence from her solar-panel plant job, Sandra (Marion Cotillard) gets word on a Friday afternoon that she needn't return to work on Monday because her fellow co-workers voted 14 out of 16 for the boss to let her go so they could each receive a €1,000 bonus. Sandra is married and the mother of two young children and they need her salary to keep out of public housing, which her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) refuses to return.
Sandra's friend, Juliette (Catherine Salée), claims that supervisor Jean-Marc (Olivier Gourmet) misled the workers with lies to scare them into voting in favor of the bonus. Both ladies talk with the boss, Mr. Dumont (Batiste Sornin), and he agrees to a revote by secret ballot on Monday morning. This means over the course of the weekend Sandra has to visit her co-workers and convince a majority to forgo their bonus, a journey she is not looking forward to making.
Right from the first encounter, it's clear directors/brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have written a story that has no easy answers or fixes. They do this by making her co-worker's situation just as compelling as Sandra's. While he sympathizes with her position and would being doing the same thing if he were in her situation, his wife has been unemployed for months and they need the bonus for their daughter's schooling. Many co-workers are in similar situations of needing the money for necessities not luxuries, so it's hard to fault them. And even though some say they will vote for her, there's no guarantee what they'll write on their secret ballot, which creates great tension at the facility on Monday morning.
The script delivers a great part for a lead actress and Cotillard shines as a woman ranging between strength and breakdown over less than three full days. Little bits of information about Sandra and her life are revealed naturally in exchanges between characters and don’t come across as forced exposition. There is one plot twist Sandra makes that is such an extreme choice it pulled me out of the film and had me curious about the Dardennes' personal lives because it seemed a very uncharacteristic choice for a parent, even one who may have been suffering depression like Sandra.
For those who like to go to the movies for the brief escapism it offers from the daily grind, Two Days, One Night is definitely not the movie for them. However, for those who enjoy the opportunity movies can afford in reflecting on life, the Dardennes have delivered an impressive film about the struggles of the working class. The story has a universal familiarity to those experiencing a similar economic situation and also a timeless quality that will allow it to endure.