The Dardenne brothers have a solid reputation as masterful filmmakers with a strong focus on the everyday struggles of regular people. This is my first film of theirs and I really loved it a lot. Marion Cotillard plays a woman who is in the process of losing her job after a protracted absence due to some sort of emotional breakdown. However, if her fellow employees will vote to forgo a salary bonus then she can keep her job. She has a weekend, two days, one night, to attempt to convince her co-workers to vote in her favor. It’s a great premise for a film and the script does a great job capturing a world where essentially everyone is living right on the edge of dropping into poverty; it’s definitely a film strongly influenced by the continued economic turmoil of our modern world. But the film really rises from good to great on the strength of Cotillard’s astonishing performance. Cotillard is both one of the best working actresses in the world and one of the most beautiful women in the world, but the Dardenne’s are only interested in one of those things. It’s a really deglam performance; Cotillard looks to have lost weight and her makeup only accentuates the hollowness of her eyes and cheeks and her overall gauntness. It’s a minimal performance but as someone who’s dealt with emotional issues, I was blown away by the absolute truth of her performance as someone who has begun to emerge from emotional collapse but remains cautious, fragile and painfully quiet. The way she breathes, the look in her eyes, the occasional tremble that runs through her voice . . . these are all deeply, deeply right and give the film its emotional power. I had some slight trouble with the ending but perhaps the Dardennes were trying to put the audience firmly in the shoes of Cotillard’s character – we ultimately have to decide how we feel about the decision made by her coworkers. And kudos to the filmmakers for at least having the courage to give us an ending and not just ending the film on an artsy, ambiguous note where we don’t know how the vote ends up; we do, at least, get that information even if you might still not be a fan of the way it went or how it’s handled. But that isn’t enough, particularly since I’m still just ambivalent on the ending, not outright negative, to impact my love for this movie in general and Cotillard’s performance specifically. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – Cotillard’s emotionally raw performance elevates this gripping film about a woman struggling to keep her job during a severe economic downturn. 4 stars.