Quick Film Diagnosis: Two Days, One Night

Consider this: You are given an unexpected $10,000 bonus by your boss at a time of need.  So does everyone else in your office.  However, you soon find out your bonus was the result of the company dividing up the salary of a coworker whose position they decided to eliminate several days before they returned from medical leave.  It’s then put to a vote—either everyone returns their bonuses in order for that person to maintain their job, or the person is fired and everyone gets to keep the bonus. What would you do?

This is the most fundamental question asked in Two Days, One Night, which circles around Sandra (Marion Cotillard, sensational as always)—a factory worker who has two days to convince her coworkers to return their bonuses before she returns from leave after experiencing a mental breakdown.  On paper, it may seem like an easy choice for audience members to make.  Everyone likely wants to believe that they would do the “right thing” based on the simple principle of human fairness: Return the money to the coworker who was unethically edged out.  However, the film shows exactly how difficult this proves to be by examining the predicament from multiple compelling angles, such as the supporting characters’ quality of lives (ranging from well off to barely scraping by) and their understandable struggle in defying working class politics.  Perhaps my favorite challenge that arises from these politics is the question of whether the company itself is simply being practical by putting what is best for the group as a whole over what the best for each individual member.  Some would argue that you can’t have one best interest without the other, and I particularly encourage those people to watch how it plays out here.

Threaded lightly throughout the film are themes of feminist empowerment, which particularly culminate in a surprise ending that will make you wonder why Cotillard didn’t walk away with the Oscar.  However, American psychologists will likely get the biggest kick from getting a glimpse into the stigma surrounding mental illness that continues to permeate other Western cultures.  For this crowd in particular, the film might feel more controversial than triumphant or even, sadly, serve as reassurance of progress.

 Watch it When: You’re in the mood for a subtle, less-depressing (than they usually are) French film or female-focused character study. 

While You Watch:  If you had to choose, which is more important to you in a work setting—fairness or cohesiveness?

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