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Two Days, One Night asks whether we look out for ourselves or each other

The film, starring Marion Cotillard, confronts a question that lies beneath many policy debates.

Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night
Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Every weekend, we pick a movie you can stream that dovetails with current events. Old, new, blockbuster, arthouse: They’re all fair game. What you can count on is a weekend watch that sheds new light on the week that was. The movie of the week for May 6 through 12 is Two Days, One Night (2014), which is available to stream on Netflix or digitally rent on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, and Vudu.

The week’s news was dominated by House Republicans’ hasty vote on Thursday to repeal and replace Obamacare with their own legislation. As the GOP celebrated (and the bill headed to a much more sober Senate), analysts and voters worried about the impact of the legislation, especially on the poor and on people with preexisting conditions.

There’s a central philosophical question at the center of debates over health care and many other policies: As a members of a society, are we meant to look out for ourselves, or for each other, or is it some combination of the two?

Two Days, One Night navigates that minefield, while also being a terrific film. Marion Cotillard stars as Sandra, a Belgian woman with a job in a solar panel factory; her husband works in food service, and they are one paycheck away from disaster. Sandra and her husband and children have managed, at last, to move out of public housing and into a proper home. But due to her severe depression, she’s been on a medical leave from work.

Finally, Sandra is ready to return to her job. But she discovers that in her absence, her boss has offered her co-workers a choice: He can either let Sandra come back, or he can make her redundant and give each of his other employees a bonus of €1,000.

Two Days, One Night
Two Days, One Night.
Two Days, One Night
Two Days, One Night

Sandra is desperate to keep her job, which is all that stands between her family and a return to public housing. She has one weekend to convince all of her co-workers to let her stay on. Anxious and fighting off the depression, Sandra embarks on a desperate quest to visit each of them at home and plead for their compassion.

Two Days, One Night is directed by the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, who excel at portraying the lives and struggles of the working class in Belgium. The duo makes neorealist-style movies that observe without judgement the things that people do in order to make ends meet and keep their heads above water. This one in particular also looks at the effect of mental illness (a preexisting condition, you might call it) on employment, even for citizens of a more welfare-oriented country.

The movie teases out the conundrums people face when weighing their own livelihood and responsibilities to family against the empathy they may feel for others. Even if you want a person to be able to keep their job, how does that desire weigh against your own desire — and need — to pay the school fees you owe? Or to buy groceries to feed yourself and your family? Or to renovate your kitchen? Or to save for a future vacation?

There’s no simple conclusion in Two Days, One Night. Sandra’s struggle will never really go away. Yet, there’s some measure of hope — a welcome sentiment in the midst of difficult days.

Watch the trailer for Two Days, One Night:

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