The Dardenne brothers, Luc and Jean-Pierre, are known to explore characters trapped by social and economic circumstance, challenging with curiosity and compassion the assumptions attached to the lives of less fortunate others. With Two Days, One Night, the Dardennes turn their humanist lens onto someone in conflict with her own humanity: Sandra (Marion Cotillard) has been depressed, seriously and clinically. When a phone call informs her that a dozen or so colleagues at a manufacturing plant, eager to collect a 1,000-euro bonus, have all voted to make her "redundant," Sandra is undone.
Having secured a second vote on the matter, Sandra must spend the weekend campaigning for her job. As she visits her fellow union members, one by one, the struggle to make her presence felt — and ask her peers for help — suggests there is more to the gambit than Sandra's job. If the source of her illness remains off-screen, the film traces its symptoms, connecting their exacerbation to social alienation and their resolution to a sense of unity and moral purpose.
What anchors Two Days, One Night, and eases its gaps, is Cotillard's extraordinary performance. The actress must play against not just her looks but her essential vitality; the way she lets her pretty, colored bra straps show signals a woman with a shoulder or two still in the game. In moments of defeat, we see Sandra taking to her bed, as depressed people tend to do. More often, we watch a woman in motion, traveling at length, on buses, in cars, and on foot. With its troubled mind as cargo, we follow a body acting, as if from memory, on its purpose.