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  • Ravi Swami

"Two Days, One Night", Dir: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2014

"2 Days, One Night", directed by the Dardennes brothers is available to view on MUBI channel and perhaps the scheduling is not entirely random since it stars Marion Cotillard who currently features in the Christmas 2020 campaign for Chanel perfume.

I'm not familiar with the Dardenne brother's other work which ploughs the social realist furrow, of which this is an excellent example and it contradicts a theory that directors and actors often start by making / appearing in films based on stories in their own backyard before fame propels them to focus on bigger themes set in the big city and Hollywood, if they are from Europe.

Certainly in the case of Cotillard, she had already won an Oscar when she took on her role in this film, which is set in the Belgian provinces and is a million miles away from the tentpole Hollywood films she had appeared by 2014, such as "The Dark Knight Rises", and, according to her Wiki page, a biopic in which she plays Edith Piaf, a role that "propelled her to worldwide fame" with the result that a lot of people will know her name at least, though most audiences will be more aware of her via commercial cinema from Hollywood.

Her reputation as an environmentalist and social justice campaigner no doubt influenced her choice of roles beyond the big-budget high-profile earners she has starred in but also a characteristic of actors from Europe is that they very often move with some fluidity between Hollywood and the European cinema that built their reputations without forsaking one or the other.

One thing is clear and that is that the film demonstrates her range as an actress in as much as bringing truth to any role thrown her way.

The plot centers on Cotillard at the centre of an employment dispute at solar panels factory where she works in Seraing, near Liege, Belgium and where her employer has been forced to reduce staff and in the process decides to lay-off Cotillard's character, "Sandra", while the remaining employees receive a 1000 franc bonus.

Having already suffered a breakdown due to stress and doubts about her self-worth, Sandra medicates herself on Xanax while her husband and two children look on helplessly at the start of the film when she receives the bad news.

Sandra desperately tries to rally support for her cause since the prospect of unemployment and losing her home in an industrial town where alternative employment is limited is a prospect too hard to bear and the plot follows her as she canvasses support from her colleagues, many of whom are reluctant to give up a tempting bonus and some who react with hostility as she goes from door to door.

On the verge of breaking as the possibility of losing her job seems ever more certain, Sandra takes an overdose of Xanax just at the moment that a vote may be tipped in her favour, but this is just another twist and turn in the plot.

As the day of the vote arrives - suggested in the title - the outcome is that votes in a secret ballot are 50/50 and despite a reprieve by her boss to reinstate her, she decides to walk away from her job with a sense that it is better to at least fight for something and risk losing, rather than simply to accept a decision and walk away.

The plot in some respects echoed the experiences of my mother when she worked in the catering division of British Airways (then BOAC) and having risen to the position of a supervisor on the basis of her work, this was undermined over time by people who effectively ganged up on her, something that partly had its basis in the fact that she is from a different Indian community to the later majority of her co-workers.

A strong woman, she shielded us as children from these disappointments which came to a head when an employment dispute resulted in her being labelled a "blackleg" and her car tires were punctured, which was only a small instance of various ways in which her co-workers tried to undermine her, and eventually she was forced to move to different department, with lower pay as a result.

My mother never resorted to tranquillisers but there were many times when we would see her silently sobbing in front of the family shrine and not really understand why.

"2 Days, One Night" is a hard film to watch but it's a credit to the directors and to Cotillard for making it gripping and honest in the tackling of a difficult and universally accessible subject and it's curiously missing from some online lists of "Best films starring Marion Cotillard", which to be fair are mostly entirely subjective, so I would highly recommend this film since it gives you another dimension to an interesting actress beyond the glitter and fantasy of the Chanel commercial.

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