Of the many movies mentioned at Sunday’s Academy Awards, Two Days, One Night could be easy to miss. Even with star Marion Cotillard’s lovely appearance on stage, the film was all but forgotten amidst the hoopla of the tight competition for the big awards. While there isn’t a flying camera or a computer-generated explosion to be seen, this small Belgian film offers, instead, a heartbreaking look at one lady’s desperation to hang on to the one experience she can define.
Taking place, yes, over two days and one night, the film follows a woman’s efforts to try to save her job. When we first meet Sandra — as she struggles to wake up and get herself moving one day — we quickly see someone challenged by circumstance. After missing work for several weeks, for an illness the film does not define, she faces an uphill battle to return to her employer because, while she was gone, her co-workers collected a bonus in exchange for covering her duties. That means, for her to resume her work, they have to agree to give up the extra money. And she only has a weekend to convince these 16 people that her needs are more important than theirs.
In a series of conversations, each requiring Sandra to take a different approach to try to secure a positive response, we learn what makes this seemingly ordinary lady so compelling. Because she lives with such tight finances, she must push as hard as she can to get what she needs while backing away when she senses she may be turned down.
Because she is so proud, she refuses to beg. And, because she is so smart, she learns to listen as carefully as she speaks. We see, through the rhythm of her interactions, what economic reality can force people to say and do. No matter anyone’s intentions, some conditions are too severe for people to bend.
Had this film been made in Hollywood, chances are something dramatic would need to happen to Sandra as she goes from one conversation to another. She would be hit by a burning truck, pelted by driving rain or chased by a monster from another planet. But thanks to the restraint of Belgian moviemakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenn, all we see is one woman trying to overcome the obstacles that can occur between co-workers. Without unnecessary exaggeration, the Dardenns tell a simple tale of the desperation people feel when every break seems to go the other way.
The film gives Oscar winner Marion Cotillard the chance to shed the movie star trappings to play a complex character. Wearing no makeup, and shot in natural light, Cotillard is far from the glamorous movie presence she displays in Public Enemies, Midnight in Paris and Inception. How wonderful to experience the natural force this exceptional actress can bring to revealing the depths of a struggling woman who simply hopes to survive. Kudos to the Academy for finding a place for Cotillard in this year’s Oscar race. In Two Days, One Night, the actress reminds us how good she can be when the trappings are booked for another movie.
Film Nutritional Value
Two Days, One Night
Content: High. Belgian moviemakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenn explore the economic realities that define many lives in a simple story of a woman who tries to save her job.
Entertainment: High. Marion Cotillard captivates in a lovely performance that reveals the subtleties, agendas and pressures that can define relationships of coworkers.
Message: High. Anyone who savors an actress shining in a substantive role will relish in the variety Cotillard brings to the various conversations that fill the film.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to talk with older children about the challenges of finance, disappointment and ambition can be a welcome conversation.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. You and your older children can share this film for its entertainment as well as the opportunity it can prompt to discuss important issues.
(Two Days, One Night is rated PG-13 for “mature thematic elements.” The film runs 95 minutes.)
4-1/2 Popcorn Buckets
What’s on your family’s movie menu this week? Read about the nutritious movies available on cable. Check out This Week’s Movie Menu in the online edition of The Reel Dad at arts.hersamacorn.com.
Behind the Screen
What We Will Remember About Oscar 87
Yes, the Oscars are over, and we have to wait another year before we can spend a Sunday evening celebrating the magic of movies. Here are a few lessons from this year’s results.
Good Things Happen to Those Who Wait.
We have known – since we first noticed Julianne Moore as Dr. Eastman in The Fugitive in 1993, the same year she shined in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts – that she was destined for Oscar. And we thought she would win in 1998 for Boogie Nights or in 2003 when she was nominated for both Far From Heaven and The Hours. Finally, for her touching performance in Still Alice, she receives the recognition she has so long deserved. And, this time, when Oscar “righted a wrong,” he picked a memorable performance to honor, too!
Oscar Loves Movies About Show Business.
Birdman continues an Academy Award tradition to honor movies about Hollywood and Broadway. Back in 1928/29, The Broadway Melody started this routine with its backstage tour followed by the musical extravaganza The Great Ziegfeld in 1936. All About Eve – a classic that could be an aunt or uncle to the sharp wit of Birdman – was named Best Picture in 1950 over a classic about Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard. In 1998, Shakespeare in Love – with its inside jokes about the theater – bested Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture while the tribute to silent cinema in The Artist was named the best of 2011.
Small Movies Can Win.
What a great evening for Whiplash with three Oscar wins including Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons. What’s especially gratifying is how the film – shot for little money in just 19 days – bested big budget productions to win its Oscars for Sound Mixing and Film Editing.
Good Movies Can Be Overlooked.
Going into Oscar night, Boyhood looked like a strong contender for many top awards. But this wonderful movie about a family’s life over the years only won its deserving Supporting Actress honor for Patricia Arquette. Unfortunately, writer/director Richard Linklater was bypassed for the showier tale of a movie star trying to make it big on Broadway.
Listen to Las Vegas.
While all the Oscar pundits tried to predict who would win – especially in the tight races for Best Picture and Best Actor – the bookies in Vegas called the races with greater accuracy. According to Variety, the “betting sites” correctly predicted 20 of the 24 Oscar winners including the major categories. And they correctly said that Birdman would overtake Boyhood for the top award.
Oscar Likes to Be Generous.
This year, Academy voters clearly wanted a few films to feel special, so the awards were spread out a bit more than in years when one or two movies dominate the results. Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel tied with Birdman with four Oscar wins to lead the pack while several others walked away with Oscars, too. And some who didn’t receive real Oscars did take home replicas made with Legos!
Box Office Doesn’t Matter.
While Best Picture nominee American Sniper left the Oscars with only a win for Sound Editing, victor Birdman becomes the lowest-earning Best Picture winner since The Hurt Locker in 2009, with domestic ticket sales of less than $40 million. That could change as more people discover the magic of this highly creative story about Hollywood, Broadway and the egos that bind.
Julie Continues to Shine.
How wonderful to see the fabulous Julie Andrews celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of the Oscar-winning The Sound of Music. Every time she steps onto a stage, she reminds us why she is a legend. And, for once, Oscar got a movie tribute just right. Who would have thought how perfect Lady Gaga would be in this moment?
Just Keep Working.
For supporting winners Patricia Arquette and J.K. Simmons, winning Oscars secures a level of attention they have not received before during their durable careers. And they are precisely the actors the Academy intended to spotlight when these awards were added in 1936: the reliable supporting player who adds texture to every movie.
Play the New York Film Festival.
For movies to generate “buzz” about their excellence, the various film festivals become more important with each year. The New York Film Festival – each fall at Lincoln Center – has become an essential stop on the road to Oscar. Last year, 12 Years a Slave was a featured attraction and, in 2014, Birdman, Whiplash, Foxcatcher and Two Days, One Night benefitted from the attention they received at the event.
Oscar Loves Actors Who Play Real People.
From Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln to Colin Firth as King George VI, Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote, Oscar loves to award actors who play real people. So Eddie Redmayne’s victory for The Theory of Everything falls right in line with how Academy voters like to see their award winners focus. Plus it’s an incredible performance.
Be a director.
In category after category, the winners saluted the directors of their films, from the designers of the visual look of The Grand Budapest Hotel to composer Alexandre Desplat who called its director, Wes Anderson, a genius. And Oscar-winning film editor Tim Cross credited Whiplash director Damiele Chazelle for “pushing us to make it better.” And, of the Oscar reactions we savored during the show, none were more touching than watching Anderson and Chazelle smile as their films won multiple Oscars.
Celebrate the Crisis.
For Alejandro G. Inarritu, the inspiration for Birdman emerged from his own questions about life when he celebrated his 50th birthday. As he explained at last year’s New York Film Festival, he asked himself, “what must someone do to stay relevant” in a profession that is all about youth? In the film, his lead character finds the answer on Broadway; for Inarritu, the movies became a way to worth through his issues. And we got a front-row seat.
Look for the winners on DVD, on demand and on line.
You can easily catch any Oscar movies you missed! And, within a few weeks, the last few nominees will be available for home viewing. Savoring this year’s winners will help you get through the slow months at the movies before the summer season begins. But, who knows, maybe we will get lucky and see a worthy movie in the next few weeks. After all, The Grand Budapest Hotel opened last March!