THIS YEAR'S Oscar nominations were laughably out of touch, but singling out Marion Cotillard's performance in the Dardenne brothers' Two Days, One Night was not. It's a rare, emotionally intelligent film about Sandra (Cotillard), a young mother who returns to work after an illness and discovers her boss has given her fellow employees a choice—they can receive 1,000-euro bonuses or they can let Sandra keep her job. Sandra has two days to meet with her coworkers in an effort to keep her life together.
This is the only thing that happens in Two Days, and initially the specifics of Sandra's illness aren't given—but as she peers into the lives of her coworkers in what feels like real-time, it becomes clear that we're seeing a precise, compassionate character study of a person living with depression in a working-class community hit hard by a tanking economy. Yet there's no melodrama and none of the scenery chewing one would expect to see in an American film tackling the same subject matter. Instead, Sandra's lows are present in Cotillard's smallest gestures, as are her rare moments of subtle triumph. (In one scene, Sandra literally just eats some soup, and it's so packed with emotional resonance it seems almost unfair.)