The other unusual thing about this film, directed by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, is the portrayal of the working stiff by glamorous Oscar-winning French actress Marion Cotillard. Can she pull it off?
Wearing jeans and a pink singlet, with her haired tied up and using little make-up, Cotillard steps effortlessly into the character of Sandra, who has a weekend to visit as many colleagues as possible to convince them of her dire situation. They'll vote on her fate on Monday morning.
She must swallow her pride and persuade her colleagues. She says: "I feel like a beggar, thief, asking people to give up their bonus." After a few visits and phone calls, she says: "It's humiliating."
You can feel her heart pounding when she makes her first call. She speaks haltingly, pauses, wipes away her tears, takes a deep breath, and plunges into the task. This scene got me rooting for her, and it's no surprise that she earned an Oscar nomination for best actress for this role.
She pounds the streets under the burning sun without breaking into a sweat. She takes buses, knocks on doors, makes phone calls and tells people that she wants to work and doesn't want to be on the dole.
Her sympathetic cook husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) instils in her the necessity of keeping her job. Without her pay, the family, including their two kids, would have to move into social housing.
As the film progresses, viewers learn that she has just recovered from depression and that she and her husband haven't had sex for four months. This is funny because thinking about sex would be the last thing on my mind now.
|Licking her wounds.|
Their desperation at keeping their bonuses reflect a France hit by years of high unemployment. BBC reported in January 2014 that French unemployment was at a record high, with 3.3 million people out of work, or 11.1 per cent.
Long uninterrupted shots dominate the film, while the editing and music are minimal and unobtrusive. They add a touch of grittiness appropriate to the film's theme of hard times.
Eventually, viewers will follow Sandra on her journey to self-realisation, and regardless of whether she keeps her job, she will have learnt that she can break out of the chains of embarrassment and poverty holding her back.
4 out of 5 stars