Released in 2014, written and directed by the Dardenne brothers, Marion Cotillard is Sandra, a young Belgian mother who discovers on her return to work that a vote has been taken to decide that the workers will get bonuses while she loses her job, she has one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up the money so she can save her job.
It is generally accepted that Marion Cotillard is one of the finest actresses working and this film does not challenge that fact, it supports it entirely. Cotillard has played such a variety of women, in such contrasting situations that this almost feels strangely mundane for her to be tackling the problems of an ordinary woman and yet she’s utterly perfect. Her performance is heartbreaking, to portray Sandra as completely broken and wayward to the point that it is almost uncomfortable to watch but that is the exact reason that it is so good, it gives audiences that yearning to help her, which is wonderful to watch. Of course there’s also Fabrizio Rongione as her husband Manu, whose unrelenting support of Sandra is beyond selfless and helps the film not stray too far into something unpleasant to watch, but without doubt this is all about Cotillard.
The premise for the film is fascinating, asking people to choose between putting themselves or others first, questioning if when a person needs the money to live are they really putting themselves first or just doing what’s necessary? Having to approach these people personally to ask them to give up their bonus is a sincerely difficult situation and that comes across on screen clearly. Again a word for this could be uncomfortable, watching the protagonist be shouted at and ignored is not the easiest of watching experiences at first but it’s perfectly human at its core and ultimately rewarding watching. Looking at it simply, the heart of the film is rooting for someone whose downtrodden and lost but has the chance to pull herself up and you can’t help but will her to succeed. The simplicity of it will not appeal to some but it allows the story to play out without distraction or embellishment.
This one won’t be for everyone, but if you’re willing to give it a chance to win you over, it’s well worth the watch because it is an outstanding performance from Cotillard and it’s an interesting insight into the potential outcome of asking people to choose between money and generosity. The story is one of trying to find a small sliver of hope for someone drowning in darkness.