Experiencing Humanity in Two Days, One Night

In a recent International Cinema lecture, French professor Bob Hudson discussed redemptive realism in the Dardenne brothers’ film Two Days, One Night

Cannes_2014_13PROVO, Utah (September 15, 2015)—For the Dardenne brothers, filmmaking is about more than just entertainment; filmmaking is an art form that comments on the human condition. In an International Cinema lecture, Bob Hudson, assistant professor of French, explained this unique form of social-realism that makes Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit) such a captivating film.

In the film, Sandra (Marion Cotillard) suffers from extreme depression and, as a result, a Xanax addiction. She works at a solar panel factory, but has not been to work for four months. When her best friend calls saying that a vote has been taken and she is going to lose her job, Sandra rushes to the factory to convince her boss to hold a new vote on Monday morning. He agrees, so she is left with a weekend – two days and one night – to track down each of her 16 co-workers and convince them to vote for her. The catch, however, is that if they vote for her, the workers will lose their end-of-the-year bonus.

The film follows Sandra as she travels through Liège, Belgium– the Dardenne brothers’ hometown and where they film all their movies – in a series of claustrophobic shots. Hudson explained that the Dardenne brothers use handheld cameras without Steadicam for their films, and they stay true to other naturalistic tendencies: they use natural lighting and avoid non-diegetic elements.

“As you’re watching [their] film[s], sometimes you think you’re watching a documentary,” said Hudson. “It almost seems like you’re watching a slice of real life.”

Hudson further explained that the Dardenne brothers do not dress up Liège in their films; they keep the scenes of muted colors to describe urban life in a realistic – and often bleak – way. Hudson said that films about Paris typically make the viewer want to go to Paris, but “if you watch any of the Dardenne brothers’ films, they don’t make you want to go to Liège.”

Over the course of the weekend, Sandra struggles with her own demons; her appearance becomes more ragged, so the viewer can see the effect of the events on her mental health. Hudson compared a picture of Cotillard in this film to a picture of her receiving an award to expound this example of the Dardenne brothers’ realism. They left the character in a natural and messy state, which makes her relatable and, most importantly, human.

Through Sandra’s journey, the Dardenne brothers address several themes which Hudson noted are present in all their films: unemployment, abandonment, immigration, exploitation, humanity and redemption.

It is because of their focus on redemption, Hudson believes, that the Dardenne brothers received the Robert Bresson Prize, a prize awarded by the Vatican at the Venice Film Festival to the director who best bears artistic testimony to the difficult search for spiritual meaning in life.

“Their films never really leave you happy at the end, but there is this moment of redemption that I think makes it worth your time and emotional investment in the characters,” said Hudson.

—Kayla Goodson (B.A. Communications and French studies ’17)

Kayla covers the French and Italian Department for the College of Humanities. She is a junior pursuing a dual degree in French studies and Journalism with a minor in international strategy and diplomacy.


Luc Dardenne, Fabrizio Rongione, Marion Cotillard, and Jean-Pierre Dardenne at the Cannes Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Georges Biard