Marion Cotillard's latest movie Two Days, One Night is an eerily resonant rallying cry for the new economy. The film, which just premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, follows a factory worker who's put up against the pitiless mathematics of business. But Two Days, One Night doesn't just show this classic battle on empathetic, human terms, it turns it into an intense, small-scale thriller.
The film comes from Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who've made a career of telling stories about characters on the fringes of society whose lives have an awful precariousness — the poor or illegal, the unemployed or parentless. They've twice won the Palme d'Or, the top prize at Cannes, and Two Days, One Night, which will be released in the U.S. by Sundance Selects, makes them solid candidates for a three-peat.
More excitingly, it's also posed to bring the Dardennes their widest audience yet, since it finds them uncharacteristically working with a big star — Oscar winner Cotillard, who leaves the makeup and designer duds behind to play Sandra, a Belgian woman who, with her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) and two kids, has been struggling toward the middle class. Sandra's one of 17 workers at a solar panel factory who's been given a brutal decision — she can have her yearly bonus of 1,000 euros or she can keep her job. The vote's already gone against Sandra, but due to some interference by the foreman, the head of the company's going to allow for a recount on Monday. Sandra has the weekend to track down as many of her co-workers as possible and try to get them to forgo a considerable amount of money so that she can stay employed.
The loss of her job would mean Sandra and her family wouldn't be able to keep paying their mortgage, and it would also make Sandra more likely to slide back into the depression that made her vulnerable to the company's decision in the first place. Sandra's not a natural fighter, and she understands economic desperation well enough that she feels terrible asking such a sacrifice of people ("I'm not pissing anyone else off!" she cries after a particularly dispiriting encounter). The difficulty of her experiences makes her slow finding of strength all the more rousing. Some of her co-workers are on her side, and some are angry that she's even making this request of them. Some avoid her and some ask forgiveness. Two Days, One Night is breathtakingly unsentimental about Sandra's predicament, so that when she finds moments of solidarity, they're hard-won and heartbreaking.
Sandra's not outsized and she's not naturally heroic. She's apologetic and fragile and ready, early on, to accept defeat and give into self-pity and despondency. Two Days, One Night isn't about something as simple as her learning to stand up to the man; it's about her coming to understand how unfair the choice Sandra and her co-workers have been given is, that they're are being made to feel responsible and complicit in managerial decisions, that they're falsely manipulated into feeling grateful for whatever they're given. It's about rejecting the narrative the company's giving them, that they're just part of a number's game, and it feels like a bracingly relevant update on the labor film.
In The Rover, a very different Cannes entry starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson, money is a literal life and death commodity. Though, as its gruff main character points out with little result, "It's paper — it's worthless." Set in Australia "10 years after the collapse," The Rover's a minimalist dystopian movie that requires the audience to infer what might have become of civilization as Eric (Guy Pearce) goes on a bloody journey to retrieve his stolen car.
Directed by David Michôd, who made his debut with the tense 2010 crime saga Animal Kingdom, The Rover has an evocative setting that's reminiscent of Mad Max crossed with The Road, but it doesn't manage to make its bleakness and violence feel anything other than glib. Its apocalyptic economy is, to be sure, even tougher than that of Two Days, One Night, with scatterings of people still trying to make a profit off guns, gas, and sex, despite a sense that its inherent value is fading. Money may be paper, but they fact that it's still being used feels like the world still has more falling apart to do.
What makes The Rover, which will be released in the U.S. on June 13, worth seeking out is Pattinson, who plays Rey, the brother of one of the gang members who stole Eric's car. Rey is childlike, with what may be a touch of a developmental disability, but he's a lot more formidable than Eric, who picks Rey up where he was abandoned to use as leverage to find his car. The performance isn't just lively, egoless, and out of Pattinson's usual wheelhouse, it's surprisingly convincing.
Eric, as the movie infuriating punchline of a final scene makes clear, is the one having trouble coming to terms with the new world disorder, but Rey, who exists largely in the moment, is a lot more comfortable. Whether shooting people or singing along to "Pretty Girl Rock," he's at home in the apocalypse, and provides some heart to a film that doesn't otherwise seem invested in sincere emotion.