Filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (The Kid with a Bike, L’Enfant) were disappointingly overlooked at Cannes this year, with this superb film tackling the awkward subject of mental illness. This may be because it’s their first film starring a known actress, Marion Cotillard, who has been shunned by the festival for Best Actress prize for the past three years. But alas, the film is now rightfully being lauded as a modern classic, and may go on to be their most successful film to date.
Cotillard plays Sandra, a mother-of-two who’s taken time off work because of a nervous breakdown. On her return to work she’s laid off, and her co-workers are told that they’ll get a €1000 bonus out of her salary. Sandra’s friend pleads with the boss to reconsider, and so he makes a proposition – if she can convince 9 out of 16 employees to give up their new bonuses then she will be rehired. Despite still showing signs of depression (crying, taking a lot of Xanax) Sandra spends the weekend hunting down her co-workers to ask them to vote for her right to stay.
Delicately and humanely handled, this is first film we’ve seen that proposes any kind of discussion about treating mental illness in the same way as a physical impairment. Part of the film’s success is Cotillard, who plays Sandra with the kind of quiet strength we saw in Rust and Bone, and delivers an immensely powerful performance of a woman harboring a mountain of anxieties and stress. It’s often excruciating to watch Sandra knock on the door of yet another employee, trying to persuade them to give up extra money that most of them so clearly need.
It’s a brave film from Cotillard and the Dardennes and one that will hopefully make a splash at the box office too.
Deux Jours, Une Nuit is in cinemas now.