By Sam Adams | Criticwire May 20, 2014 at 9:47AM
Perhaps more than any working directors, Belgium's Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne suffer from what might called "Ho Hum, Another Masterpiece" syndrome. The brothers are so consistently good, and so dedicated to the same themes -- and even the same location, their native Seraing -- that it's easy for critics to become jaded, or at least less excited, with each now movie. But "Two Days, One Night," which had its worldwide unveiling at the Cannes Film Festival today, is stoking the fires anew, aided by Marion Cotillard's central performance, which has quickly become the frontrunner for Cannes' acting prize.
The plot of "Two Days, One Night" is simple, almost schematic, as is often the case with the Dardennes: Cotillard's work colleagues are given a choice to pick between a thousand-Euro bonus and Cotillard keeping her job, and she must spend a weekend trying to convince just over half of them to vote her way. But putting Cotillard in the lead, rather than the Dardennes' favored method of working with nonprofessional actors, is a gamble that seems to pay off, with several critics calling the movie the Dardennes' best and prompting talk of an unprecedented third Palme d'Or for the brothers.
"Two Days, One Night" has been acquired for U.S. distribution by Sundance Selects. It does not yet have a release date.
Reviews of "Two Days, One Night"
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Belgian sibling directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are best known for taut, bittersweet tales involving the struggles of working class characters captured in a naturalistic style that creates an immediate sense of involvement in their lives. To that end, their latest effort "Two Days, One Night" boils down their appeal to its primal essence: Set over the course of a weekend in which a depressed young mother struggles to save her job, its deceptively simple premise belies a satisfying demonstration of their distinctive talent.
Scott Foundas, Variety
Rich in the Dardennes' favored themes of work, family and the value of money, and infused with the suspense of a ticking-clock thriller, "Two Days" may be dismissed by some as more of the same from the Belgian siblings who rarely stray far from the industrial port town of Seraing. Yet within their circumscribed world, the Dardennes once again find a richness of human experience that dwarfs most movies made on an epic canvas.
David Sexton, Evening Standard
Compared with nearly every other scenario behind a feature film these days, it seems such an ordinary, small-scale problem -- but it's as involving as any do-or-die thriller. Some eminent rogue said the art of cinema consisted of finding a pretty woman and pointing a camera at her. Most social realists forget that. Not the Dardennes, not here.
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian
It is another great performance from Marion Cotillard, who does not look out of place, like a starry A-lister, in the more austere Dardenne habitat. She is restrained and dignified, and again Cotillard shows what a marvelous technical actor she is: every nuance and detail is readably present on her face. She is compelling and moving -- and so is the film.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
While the setup might seem the basis for a look at people's venal natures, and their inability to think beyond personal gain, the Dardennes are unfailingly compassionate filmmakers. In casual observations full of small but telling details, we see one person after another engaged in his or her own struggle, many of them in immigrant families, working two jobs or with spouses on unemployment.
Dave Calhoun, Time Out
As filmmakers the Dardennes are never less than reliable, yet still "Two Days, One Night" feels like one of their best, up there with "The Child" or "Rosetta" in its cast-iron sense of purpose, searing relevance and understanding of how tough it is for all of us, especially the less well-off, to do the right thing in our everyday lives.
David Jenkins, Little White Lies
Down to the marrow of its subject matter, this is a film which examines the notion that, if one is fully-attuned to fine nuance, that genuine repetition is in fact beyond the capabilities of the human body and mind. If you're seeing the same film ad infinitum, you'd probably do well to look a little closer.
Lee Marshall, Screen Daily
While it may lack the breathless dramatic energy of earlier works like "La Promesse" or "L'Enfant," this is still a powerful, finely scripted issue movie, made all the more incisive by Marion Cotillard's raw performance as a woman fighting to save her job while suffering from depression.
Robbie Collin, Telegraph
Another hugely admirable entry in the Dardenne canon: nothing all that new, perhaps, but as thoughtful, humane and superbly composed as we have, very fortunately, come to expect from them.
Peter Labuza, Film Stage
What separates "Two Days, One Night" from just another tale of a poor woman in desperate need is that the Dardennes have also, rather subtly, rendered a stunning portrait of marriage on the brink.
John Bleasdale, CineVue
"Two Days, One Night" is well made, and Cotillard and the rest of the cast give assured performances, but its optimism is desperate. By no means the Dardennes' best work, one wonders if they shouldn't perhaps stray outside of their comfort zone.