Marion Cotillard, who turns 40 today, is certainly one of our finest current film performers. She’s already won one Oscar (for 2007’s “La Vie en Rose”), she successfully (and consistently) bridges the gap between art and commerce (an array of both blockbusters and smaller, brainier fare, over the last decade), plus she can sing and play instruments. Her Academy Award nomination for “Two Days, One Night” took many by surprise–but it shouldn’t. Largely unseen, low-budget and minimalist, and completely in French language and Arabic, it’s the kind of movie that is often overlooked come awards time. However, Ms. Cotillard arguably turns in the most nuanced and delicate performance of 2014. She’s a wonder. And in writing and directing “Two Days, One Night”, the fabulous Dardenne brothers gave us one of last year’s best films.
Sandra Bya (Ms. Cotillard) is a wife and mother that suffers a nervous breakdown. When we meet her, she is still recovering, but almost ready to return to her factory job in Belgium. But there’s a problem. Management has figured out that her co-workers were easily able to cover her shifts during Sandra’s absence, with just minimal adjustment. And the bosses have offered each employee a healthy bonus if they continue to handle Sandra’s work load–therefore making her employment unnecessary. Sandra’s only hope is to visit each of her colleagues individually, over the course of one weekend, to convince them to vote for her to stay on–which would effectively cancel out their bonuses. It’s an odyssey that features a mix of tumult, elation–and a number of poignant surprises.
“Two Days, One Night” is certainly Marion Cotillard’s “show”. Her exquisite face, her subtle expressiveness–this is marvelous acting. Now, that’s not to say that she receives zero support, because there is more than one strong character performance exhibited along this journey–not the least of which is the nearly constant companionship of Sandra’s husband Manu, as played by Dardenne regular, Fabrizio Rongione. But it’s the sorrowful eyes of Marion that burn through the screen and into your heart. Saddened and horrified by what she has to endure to help feed her family, Sandra’s workplace plight makes for unusually arresting cinema. This is an absolute must-see for serious film-goers.
Lastly, I want to inform you that I’ve completed a 2014 journey myself with this review. I’ve now brought you a critical essay on every single feature film, that was nominated at this year’s Academy Awards. That includes everyone in the Best Actress race, along with every screenplay nominee. original song nominee, art direction nominee–you get the idea. Btw, I also accomplished this task for 2013 and 2012. This years tally was 45 films. So, my readers, as a critic, you’ll certainly find better writers than me. And maybe you can even locate someone with more knowledge than myself. But I challenge you to find anyone who is more complete–that’s my job! And I’m already hard at work supplying your 2015 roster too. Awards season is almost upon us! Bring it on.