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For Your Consideration: 'Deux jours, une nuit'

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Two Days, One Night, by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne
Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, the Belgian brothers who form a writer-director team, had good critical attention once again at last year's Cannes Film Festival. Their 2014 film Two Days, One Night played earlier this year at Landmark's Bethesda Row and again, on Tuesday night, on the French Cinémathèque series at the Embassy of France. Like most of their films, including their most recent Le gamin au vélo, this film focuses its lens on the less than glamorous working neighborhoods of Wallonie.

Leadership at Solwal, a company that makes solar panels, has laid off one of its workers, Sandra, played with gritty beauty by Marion Cotillard. The Dardennes' script slowly reveals the details: Sandra was on medical leave because she suffers from depression, and while she was gone her boss discovered he could run his shop with one less salary to pay. The workers voted to accept a thousand-euro bonus in return for agreeing to Sandra losing her job, but Sandra's friend in the group has convinced the owner to allow the group to vote again, to give Sandra a chance to speak to them. Sandra has the weekend to convince her co-workers to give up their bonus so she can have her job back.

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It may not seem like enough to sustain a viewer's interest over an hour and a half, but Cotillard and the Dardennes' script make this unlikely story compelling. Cotillard is as plain as possible, with no makeup, discount store clothes, and her hair unstyled. Sandra struggles to make it through her day, sleeping late and popping Xanax after Xanax. The lingering symptoms of depression make it difficult for her even to fight for the chance to hold on to her job. Her gentle husband, Manu, played by Fabrizio Rongione in a way reminiscent of Daniel Auteuil, does his best to keep her on task, because his salary at a fast food restaurant only goes so far and their two children are worried that their mother will be "sick again." The stories of the coworkers make you realize that this whole community is hurting, and that theme is personal for the Dardennes: they grew up in Seraing, where some of the locations in the film were shot.

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