Laissez- faire economics has seldom looked more ugly than in the Dardenne Bros’ quietly powerful and vital new feature where an ordinary worker finds herself at the mercy of colleagues after an employer abdicates full responsibility for his own decision.
It triggers a devastating individual v solidarity struggle at the margins with the Dardennes taking the film’s basic premise from a true story that serves as a ready made morality tale for the 21st century.
Yet, like their last film ‘The Kid With A Bike’, occasional feel-good moments – hard earned – strike a nice balance and come across as very real.
Marion Cotillard is exceptional – again – in the lead role, giving us another fully committed performance, which easily dispels those ill-considered fears that the Dardennes were in some way selling out when casting their first ever ‘A’ lister/Oscar winner.
She plays Sandra, fighting for her job at the local factory after its jelly fish owner – spineless – gives the rest of the workforce a choice between saving their colleague or receiving a €1,000 bonus. Sandra is in the frame after taking time-off for depression – Social Darwinism raising its nasty head – and looks on the way out when the vote goes emphatically the other way. But she gets an unlikely second bite at the cherry when allegations of undue influence/shop floor verbal thuggery force a revote; leaving Sandra with the two days and one night of the film’s title – a weekend – to turn things around.
Hard edged social realism takes on the tension of a thriller – we can almost hear the clock ticking – as Sandra faces the demeaning task of speaking to the 16 voters one by one. She has no appetite for the fight, swallowing Xanax like cheap candy, but her husband drives her on, coming across as no less desperate than some of the voters’ other halves, hellbent on getting their sticky paws on the bonus payments.
This is a character on the edge, holding it together at the vital moments – just – and falling apart afterwards but retaining a sincerity that unnerves the voters in different ways . There’s some support, one even bursting into tears of shame but it’s unclear whether she will receive the required majority or even get to Monday morning without another nervous breakdown.
But, we learn along the way, just what the bonuses mean to the voters and so does Sandra, making it doubly hard. These are workers earning a minimum wage, many with family responsibilities looking to fund the outgoings gap, “I didn’t vote against you, I voted for my bonus” one tells her.
And we see fascinating glimpses of their lives; often from over the shoulder during doorstop conversations. Each encounter adds another jigsaw piece to a portrait of a typical Dardenne milieu but now seen from a wider angle.
This is a deeply compassionate and honest film that keeps the true villains off-screen for the most part but their presence is felt like a thunderbolt in almost every scene. It’s outstanding filmmaking from two of the best around.
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