That Marion Cotillard is generating serious awards buzz for her performance in the small-scale Belgian drama Two Days, One Night is a testament to the film's quiet emotional power. From the acclaimed Dardenne brothers, who have won the Cannes Palme D'Or twice in their storied careers, Two Days, One Night follows young wife and mother Sandra, played by Cotillard, as she canvasses her 16 co-workers at a small factory in an effort to save her job.
Sandra, we gradually learn, is resurfacing from a bout of depression that saw her miss time at work, and in her absence her bosses realized they could live without her by spreading her workload out among the other employees. They thus face a cruel choice, proposed by their bosses: They can either vote to receive a 1,000 Euro bonus, or save Sandra's job and let her come back to work. After losing one vote, Sandra is permitted to make her case amid talk of management interference. Two Days, One Night follows Sandra's sometimes excruciating, sometimes heartwarming journey through town trying to convince the co-workers she barely knows to reject the money and give her another chance.
What might be dreadful melodrama in different hands is handled thoughtfully and with nuance by the Dardennes, who employ their usual spare style of filmmaking that doesn't seek to tip the emotional scales for the audience or forebodingly build to plot twists. What's unusual is Cotillard's presence—the Dardennes usually work with a stable of relatively unknown Belgian actors suited to their process, but she is an Oscar-winning, French-speaking actress. The gamble pays off beautifully, with Cotillard giving a career-best performance that has run the table at critics' awards this year.