Please tell us about the circumstances that lead to Two Days, One Night?
Luc Dardenne: For years we’ve been considering a film about someone who is made redundant following the vote of her colleagues who - like their boss - think she isn’t performing efficiently, and hold her responsible for the loss of their bonuses. Two Days, One Night was really born once we came up with Sandra and Manu, a couple united in the face of adversity.
Jean-Pierre Dardenne: What was important for us was to show someone excluded because she is considered weak, because she doesn’t perform well enough. The film praises this “non-performing” character who finds strength and courage through the fight she conducts with her husband.
Sandra’s colleagues voted for a staff reduction and her redundancy in exchange for a bonus. Have you come across similar real-life stories?
Jean-Pierre: Yes, more than once, even if not exactly the same. You see the general context of the film - the obsession with performance and violent competition between workers - everywhere in the workplace, in Belgium and elsewhere.
Manu encourages Sandra to meet with her colleagues over the course of a weekend, to ask them to re-consider their vote so she can get her job back. His role is crucial.
Jean-Pierre: Manu is a bit like a union leader, Sandra’s coach. He manages to convince her that there’s a possibility, that she’s capable of convincing her colleagues to change their minds.
Luc: Sandra shouldn’t appear like a victim condemning her colleagues who have voted against her. This isn’t the fight of some poor girl against a bunch of bastards!
You don’t judge any of your characters.
Luc: The workers in Two Days, One Night are placed in a position of relentless competition and rivalry. There are no good guys versus bad guys here. In any case, we’re not interested in looking at the world like that.
Jean-Pierre: A film isn’t a tribunal. All of Sandra’s colleagues have good reasons for saying yes or no to her. One thing is for sure: this bonus isn’t a luxury for any of them. They all need the money to pay their rent, their bills… Sandra understands only too well, as she is struggling with financial difficulties herself.
Sandra, her husband and their children are a close-knit family: this hasn’t always been the case in your films.
Luc: Sandra draws her courage from her relationship with her husband. Manu loves his wife deeply, he fights against her depression and helps her to stop being afraid. At the beginning of the film he believes in Sandra more than she does herself.
Jean-Pierre: Even their children get involved. They help their parents to find out where her co-workers live.
These colleagues never envisage going on strike or fighting against the deal their boss is proposing.
Jean-Pierre: We chose a small firm with too few workers to form aunion. If the film were the story of a struggle against a defined enemy it would have been completely different… All the same, the absence of collective reaction, of any struggle against the principle behind that vote, reveals a very contemporary lack of solidarity.
How long did it take you to complete the screenplay?
Jean-Pierre: We’ve been talking about this subject for about ten years - we’ve had plenty of time to prepare ourselves.
Luc: The script itself didn’t take long. We started writing in October 2012 and finished in March 2013. We wanted the narrative to unfold over a very short period of time, as the title indicates.
Jean-Pierre: The urgency dictated by this time frame had to be reflected in the rhythm of the film.
After Cécile de France in The Kid With a Bike, you cast Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night.
Luc: We met Marion when we were working as co-producers on Rust and Bone by Jacques Audiard, which was partly shot in Belgium. We met her by chance, coming out of an elevator holding her baby, and were won over immediately. Driving back to Liège, we didn’t stop talking about her: her face, her look…
Jean-Pierre: Hiring such a famous actress was an additional challenge for us. Marion was able to find a new body and a new face for this film.
Luc: She never wanted to show her work as an actor. Nothing that she accomplishes here falls under the heading of a performance or display. We worked together in an atmosphere of reciprocal trust that allowed us to try anything.