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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Two Days, One Night

IntroductionTwo days, One Night

Two days, One Night, written and directed by brothers Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, was released in 2014. It is in French with English subtitles. It features a young Belgian mother called Sandra, played by Marion Cotillard, whose job is threatened after a period of absence due to depression and anxiety. The film follows her over a weekend in which she tries to persuade her work colleagues to allow her to keep her job instead of receiving a substantial bonus, the choice given to them by the management. Based on a number of actual employment cases in France, the Dardenne brothers have talked about a need to explore the cruelty of the workplace in which such tactics might be used, especially in recent times of austerity when employees may be pitted against each other in competition for jobs. As mental health stigma and discrimination are important issues in the UK, ones currently being highlighted by the Time to Change campaign, this is an enormously important film for all mental health professionals to watch and possibly to use in teaching about the issue. It has already won a number of awards for Marion Cotillard as Best Actress and for Best Foreign Language film and is nominated for a BAFTA award in 2015.
 

The Film

Two days, One Night opens one Friday afternoon with Sandra resting at home when she is woken by the phone ringing. What is not immediately clear but subsequently unfolds is that one of her good friends and work colleagues, Juliette, has called to inform her of a vote held that day at their workplace to decide whether Sandra should return to her job after a period of sick leave caused by depression and anxiety. It seems that in the vote her colleagues were asked to choose between allowing Sandra back to work or receiving a bonus of €1000 each. The foreman has untruthfully informed some of her colleagues that if they don’t vote for Sandra to lose her job one of them might have to go, so influencing the decision. Initially hopeless and anxious, Sandra reaches for her anxiolytic medication and takes a tablet. Her husband returns from work, hears the news and insists that she must fight for her job by asking for another ballot, this time a secret one, on Monday giving her the chance to speak to all of her workmates in person over the two days, one night of the weekend. The manager grants the ballot and the subsequent conversations between Sandra and her colleagues form the substance of the film.

Each of Sandra’s encounters with her colleagues is filmed in real time with hand held camera shots, which bring an authenticity to the encounters that is very effective in conveying the difficult emotions present in each encounter. Of course, each person has a need for the bonus and reacts differently to Sandra’s plea to forego it so that she may keep her job. One person reveals that the foreman told him that Sandra’s mental illness makes it likely that she’ll perform more poorly at work. Sandra faces the dilemma that the increasing stress of her situation is causing her an increase in anxiety and a need for more medication at the same time as trying to reassure colleagues that she is recovered and ready to return to work.

Once Sandra believes that she has not gained the support of more than half her workmates, she is overcome with hopelessness and takes an impulsive overdose of Alprazolam (the benzodiazepine she is prescribed for her symptoms of anxiety and panic). Just as she has done this, a colleague calls at her home to say that she has changed her mind and will support her and so Sandra confesses to taking the overdose and is immediately taken to hospital by her husband. By Monday morning of the ballot Sandra returns to work resigned to the possibility of either decision, as the numbers are very close in her estimation. The ending of the film poses an interesting dilemma for Sandra.

Relevance to the Field of Mental Health

Two days, One Night tackles a number of important mental health topics. With its compelling portrait of depression, anxiety, panic and an impulsive overdose of prescribed medication the film offers a good platform for teaching on these conditions. But it is particularly useful for considering the subject of stigma in the workplace and the ways in which people can be helped back, by employers and colleagues, to their jobs after a period of sick leave caused by mental illness. There are some excellent resources about this issue at the Work and Mental Health pages of The Royal College website, with sections for Workers, Employers, Clinicians and Carers. These pages could be used alongside a viewing of the film to explore the subject and provide a good teaching package. An article in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment published in 2003 entitled Work, employment and psychiatric disability by Jed Boardman (Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (2003) 9: 327-334), now freely available, also offers additional useful material on this topic that might inform a discussion (bearing in mind that it was written more than a decade ago when the economic climate was somewhat different).

In summary, this is a film well worth watching for mental health professionals seeing people who work in an increasingly harsh employment world, experiencing higher levels of stress whilst often having lower job security.

• More information about Two days, One Night can be found at IMDB, as can a short trailer.

Two days, One Night can be purchased from amazon.co.uk. Minds on Film is written by Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Joyce Almeida

 

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About this blog

 

Minds on Film is a monthly blog that explores psychiatric conditions and mental health issues as portrayed in a selection of readily available films.

Please note that this blog may contain plot spoilers. Any views expressed are purely my own.

Dr Joyce Almeida
Dr Almeida is a consultant
psychiatrist working in the private sector in the UK.