There was a summer, about six or seven years ago, where all I did was read screenwriting books. I remember one particular piece of advice—I believe it was from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat—that said never, never, open a film with the lead waking up.
That’s how Two Days, One Night begins. Ominous to be sure, but I really had no idea what I was in for. Nobody had started crying yet.
The lead character, Sandra, played uncomfortably well by Marion Cotillard, starts the film by telling herself not to cry. She pops a Xanax. Then she cries, pops more Xanax, and teeters on the verge of crying again in a non-stop cycle of self-pity for the next 90 minutes.
We find out early on that Sandra is on the verge of losing her job at the solar panel factory. Her boss has put the employees of the small company to a vote: Either lose Sandra, or lose a significant pay bonus. Not surprisingly, most of the company votes to keep their bonus, and Sandra is far short of the majority vote she needs to stay. So Sandra convinces her boss to hold another vote after the weekend has passed in hopes that she can persuade her coworkers to let her keep her job.
Sandra spends the weekend visiting each of her coworkers, trying to talk them into voting for her instead of the bonus. It’s excruciating. She gives all of them the same spiel, word for word, ten different times. Her results vary, but it’s mostly just one, big, interminable cycle of sorrow.
Throughout the movie I kept saying to myself: “Look Sandy, it’s just not that big a deal.” Her husband has a job and supports her to a fault. Her children love her very much. How much can a shitty solar panel factory gig pay anyway? Are there no other menial jobs available in Belgium?
I get it, though: This movie is about dealing with crippling depression, not necessarily the circumstances that bring it out. That doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
The final act shines far brighter than the rest of the film, but I had to put in so much work to get there I’m not sure it was worth it. Sandra’s final choice might seem irrational to some, especially given how it relates to the plot, but the last few lines of dialogue bring a certain sense of satisfaction.
The underlying idea of the film is that depression is not a rational illness. That true satisfaction and self worth are gained by putting up a good fight, your best fight—and that the outcome is moot.
Despite a relatively low budget and standard urban settings, Two Days, One Night was quite a journey in and of itself. The performances were excellent, the cinematography tasteful, and although I found the script redundant and troublesome at times, the film provided an unexpected and gratifying end to Sandra’s journey.
That being said, it’s a journey I don’t ever want to take again.