Greetings again from the darkness. The Dardenne Brothers (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne) are filmmakers who excel at forcing us to take notice of human nature. This time they take the unusual step of working with an A-lister in Marion Cotillard, yet rather than create a distraction, this works for making the lead character even more realistic and believable.
Sandra (Ms. Cotillard) is a working class wife and mother who has gone through recovery after a bout with severe depression. She has been on leave from her factory job and now uses her Xanax as a crutch when she gets a little anxious. Just as it’s time for her to return to work, she learns her co-workers chose a bonus over allowing Sandra to keep her job, through some type of cruel vote facilitated by company management.
Sandra’s friend Juliette (Catherine Salee) encourages the boss to allow a re-vote on Monday, and Sandra’s husband (Dardenne regular Fabrizio Rongione) advises her to visit each of the 16 co-workers and request that they reconsider their vote. Though she would rather curl up in bed, Sandra’s trek to visit each co-worker takes every ounce of courage and energy she can muster.
This is a fascinating study of economic realities vs human nature, even right vs wrong. Can these people look beyond what is best for themselves and do the right thing for Sandra? These individual meetings are excruciating to watch. Asking each person to vote for her is agonizing for Sandra, while each of the co-workers has their own personal struggles that make the decision not so simple.
Marion Cotillard is a revelation here. This is not the glamorous movie star you might think of. Instead, she dresses down, wears minimal make-up, and walks and talks like the desperate working class woman she is playing … all while carrying the burden of a clinical depressed person. Mostly, she taps into an emotional state that is powerful to watch. The Oscar nominated is definitely justified.
While it seems the suspense of each scene is almost more than Sandra can take, there is a moment of release and joy during the sing-along with Van Morrison (on the radio). The character of Sandra defines “putting up a good fight”, and she proves that sometimes that is the most important thing.