Two Days, One Night ★★★★½

In the latest film from the great Dardenne Brothers (Rosetta, The Kid With the Bike) Marion Cotillard is wonderful as Sandra, a still-depressed mother of two who decides to fight for her job by asking her colleagues to vote in favour of her returning to work and keeping her salary, over a generous and financially-cushioning bonus.

On a Friday fourteen of her sixteen colleagues voted in favor of the bonus, but Sandra is convinced to fight for another chance and manages to persuade her boss to hold a blind, uninfluenced ballot on Monday. Over the course of the weekend, barely able to hide her shame and embarrassment, she pays each of them a personal visit, pleading her case (the importance of her salary, her improved health), but always with an understanding of their equally stressful financial situations. She asks them to make a very difficult decision, to take a sacrifice for her - for some, a friend - and the passing on a rare economic crutch.

In this film we see inspiring increases in Sandra's self-worth, having been sidelined by depression, just as self-pity heartbreakingly brews with each encounter. Many of her work colleagues are not monsters; some felt guilty for taking the bonus and claimed to be pressured in, agreeing to vote in her favor, while others provide sound arguments why they won't change their minds. There is a profound moral dilemma here, and an audience is challenged to consider how they would respond. There are several twists and turns that have huge significance, but save for one misfitting development with one colleague, the Dardennes are completely respectful of the sort of person Sandra is to the very end.

Throughout this film suspense builds whenever Sandra knocks on a door, or makes a call. We have no idea how this colleague is going to respond, and despite the repetitious structure there is tension throughout. This is a small film about a universal crisis.

The Dardenne Bros use an intimate approach to telling their stories; lengthy, unbroken takes, a curious camera that eavesdrops on these conversations and is expertly controlled. The musical accompaniments work brilliantly. But it is their script, their core character, the tenuous conflict that emerges through an unfortunate economic landscape, that makes this film wholly affecting.