(Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2014)
The Dardennes have yet to make a bad film; which says it all about their understanding of their own ability and their knack of choosing stories perfectly suited to that ability. Their "invisible" style is ideal for that invisibility - it allows for immersion in these stories which are always about real people in with real problems in what is as close as much cinema gets to a proper representation of the real world.
Here they address the recent Economic downturn by telling the story of Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a married mother-of-two recovering from a spell off work with depression who finds out that here colleagues have been given a choice between her lay-off and keeping their own annual annual bonus of €1000. They voted convincingly for the bonus, but Sandra and her friend convince their boss that it has been influenced by their foreman, and he agrees that there can be another, secret ballot after the weekend. That allows Sandra two days and one night to persuade her workmates that they should change their minds and choose her over the money.
The majority of the film, then follows Sandra and her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) as they journey all over Liege to her colleagues houses and tries to reason with them. All the while she battles with her own feelings, fearful her depression will return, taking pills, crying, suffering from huge mood swings, trying to be a wife and mother, arguing with her patient, worried husband.
So much of the success of the film rests upon the performance of its lead, and Cotillard - arguably the greatest actress working today - is as exceptional as ever, letting us read the swirl of emotions in Sandra's eyes as she endures victories and defeats.
The repetitive structure initially seems irritating but rapidly becomes a strength, the Dardennes using it to show us a cross-section of working and lower-middle class Belgian life, as Sandra's colleagues react to her arrival in sharply varying ways; some with kindness and sorrow, some with violence. The details are beautifully observed but subtle. There is an effortlessness to the verisimilitude here, which gives the few moments of more outright narrative haping real impact - the scene where Sandra, Manu and one of her colleagues sing along joyously to "Gloria" by Them in a car at night is a notable emotional high in a film which is generally quite muted and even guarded.