Marion Cotillard is really one of the globe's great screen actresses, and she certainly deserves the accolades she's received for "Two Days, One Night" (which may include an Oscar nomination on Thursday). But when one's performance is directed -- and preserved -- with the trademark intimacy/intensity of the Dardennes brothers, a performer has a decided advantage over the competition.
The Belgian producer-directors ("Rosetta," "The Son," "The Kid With a Bike") are makers of miracles, "Two Days, One Night" being both agitprop and allegory, and Cotillard their combo Norma Rae and Joan of Arc. Here, Cotillard plays Sandra, a factory worker who must spend a weekend convincing her equally strapped Belgian co-workers to forgo their 1,000-euro bonuses so that she can keep her job. She presents a woman who doesn't summon up courage as much as she tamps down indignity, the situation being inhumane to the point of sadism, as well as perhaps slightly hard to swallow. (Would a factory owner pitch his workers against each other in such a way, or just fire someone? It's the movie's single flaw.) Her agony is palpable, her situation dire, her confrontations with individual colleagues raw, hopeful and ultimately electric.
And having just recovered from a bout of depression, with her family the proverbial one paycheck away from destitution, Sandra represents something larger to the Dardennes, too: the weakest member of an insecure herd being culled, simply to maintain the profits of the ruling class. It isn't a terribly obscure lesson the brothers are teaching, but the way they dovetail the real and the metaphoric is as exhilarating as Sandra's more empathy-free co-workers are pathetic, infuriating and ultimately a slap in the face to the status quo.