Is there any actress better than Marion Cotillard at the moment? That is the first question that sprung to mind when watching Two Days, One Night, the latest offering from the Dardenne brothers in which Cotillard gives a masterful performance as Sandra, a young wife and mother who, having been debilitated with depression, finds herself fighting to save her job. Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne are social realist filmmakers of the highest order, having won the Palme d’Or at Cannes twice for Rosetta (1999) and The Child (2005), along with numerous other awards. Rarely do they work with established stars, but having seen Cotillard’s remarkable performance in Rust and Bone, they wrote the film very much with the French actress in mind. Few actresses could deliver a performance of such subtlety and power and she never ever comes across as an A-lister airlifted into this working class setting purely in the interest of career credibility. As the desperate Sandra, who struggles to keep her illness under control whilst campaigning for a return to her position at a solar panel factory, Cotillard looks real and sounds real and, as such, it is impossible not to become immersed in her plight. While she’s been away, Sandra’s employers have realised that the workload can be managed without her and have offered all the other staff a €1000 bonus if they support a proposal to terminate her. When Sandra learns of the decision, she pleads with her supervisor for a new vote on Monday on the grounds that a factory foreman bullied workers into voting against her. When he agrees to her request, Sandra is faced with the unenviable task of contacting each of the employees to plead her case. If Sandra can get nine of the 16 staff to vote in her favour, she will be “rewarded” with a return to the job that, whilst alienating and dispiriting, is so desperately important for her being able to sustain her family. Sandra sets out to speak with each staff member personally to seek their support. Not surprisingly, the mortifying ordeal of begging her co-workers for a job that is rightfully hers in the first place takes its toll and she finds herself struggling to keep her illness at bay. However, with the unwavering support of her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), she plows ahead with her mission, despite the humiliation and anxiety that engulfs her each time she has to ask somebody to forego what is a considerable financial windfall. For the most part, the staff are sympathetic to her plight and even those who don’t agree to forego their bonus acknowledge that she has not been treated fairly. It’s not that they want Sandra to lose her job, it’s just that the bonus money is a godsend at a time when everybody is struggling to cope with the economic pressures that are a reality in Europe, as elsewhere in the world. The Dardenne’s reference the realities of the globalised economy when the factory manager makes it clear that the decision to downsize the workforce is due to the pressures being applied by cheaper manufacturing outside of Europe. To her credit, Sandra is not resentful towards those staff members who refuse to support her, nor can she find much pleasure in those moments when they do agree to vote in her favour because she knows the sacrifice she is asking them to make. She really has nothing to offer them in return for their support and, if she wins the vote, she has to face these people every day, knowing what they have given up for her. With Two Days, One Night, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne have produced another brilliant drama within the social realist tradition. The settings are authentic, the characters are authentic and the predicament Sandra finds herself in is an all too common reality for so many people today. There are no elaborate effects or costumes and music only appears where it would be logical, such as from the car radio, with the soundscape otherwise confined to the natural beats and rhythms of the streets where Sandra spends so much of her time traipsing from house to house. This is an insightful, compelling and compassionate work from the Dardenne brothers in which Cotillard delivers another restrained and dignified performance, capturing every tic of emotion in Sandra’s face as she fluctuates from desperation to hope to fear to resignation and back again and again and again.