We’ve already witnessed the superficial woes of the privileged class in the Croisette. Now, Belgian masters Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are bringing cinema back down to the ground to depict the real problems of the hardscrabble working-class that’s far more resonant and than anything that’s playing in Cannes so far this year. Deux Jours, Une Nuit (Two Days, One Night) is a socially aware, morally-inclined work that’s not so thematically dissimilar to a few films in the Dardenne brothers’ school of realism, particularly the Palme d’Or-winning Rosetta, wherein the employment-challenged heroine stoically wrangles through the fabric of her society to get a stable job. Marion Cotillard’s Sandra is, with all her complexities, self-preservation and moral vein, is essentially Rosetta’s soul sister, reluctantly battling her way through the ethical jungle of a corporate-ruled milieu to sustain her place in a job with a payroll that she so desperately wants to keep.
The great thing about the Dardenne brothers (and this film) is that it’s never a plainly Manichean struggle – where Sandra is a good-hearted mother of two therefore a victim, and the colleagues who voted against her in favour of a 1,000 Euro bonus are heartless and greedy. There’s a point here where Sandra, realising the complex crux of her situation that she may well be self-seeking, both physically and mentally unfit to maintain her work ethic and her pursuits might be a pointless crusade, with the majority of her colleagues making ends meet in the tough modern world. Her small yet tremendously relatable and affecting quest to convince and draw sympathy from others becomes the Dardennes’ excuse to explore the varying degrees of hardship, insecurities, greed, injustice and self-preservation of society at large. Even the most callous of bastards here have their reasons, even that means building a patio or a garden wall or paying mortage.
And in Sandra’s advocacy for empathy, Cotillard gives a powerhouse performance that’s always unshowy and character en pointe. Her crusade becomes all the more moving because of her difficulty to find courage after a bout of depression and the sheer balls it require to face the embarassment and humiliation in front of her co-workers. Whenever Cotillard breaks down, there’s a gut-wrenching punch that knocks deep in your stomach, and even more devastating when she forces back down a well of emotions and tears to bravely seek compassion (not pity) from the people around her. This is what makes the Dardennes brothers two of the most humane filmmakers working today, because they force us to inquire our own moral and philosophical instincts as human beings, to step into the shoes into their characters and view the world from their perspective without bias and judgement. If that’s not worth a Palme d’Or, I have no fucking idea what else is.