Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Mon 20 Oct
The UK government are currently celebrating (justifiably or not) that, for the first time since 2008, unemployment figures have fallen below two million. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s latest drama explores how important having a job can be; predominantly because of the regular salary, it can also be a morale booster and a signifier that one’s life is on track.
Sandra (Marion Cotillard) is a young mother of two. Her husband works at a local restaurant, but she’s had to take time off due to struggles with depression. However, when a colleague informs Sandra her boss is giving the workforce a choice – a €1000 bonus, or keeping Sandra on the pay roll – she’s cajoled into visiting her co-workers one by one and requesting them to forgo the money so she can keep her job.
The opening scene of Sandra in bed “resting” immediately sets up her frail psychological state. Nervous and shy, the situation forces her into bold and direct circumstances, an emotional torment she battles with throughout the narrative – resulting in violent fluctuations of her mood. Through the repeated visits, the Dardennes present a series of similar vignettes: Sandra explaining her position and the person giving their answer. What’s interesting are the differing reactions: anger; sorrow; disdain; pity; guilt. It’s a story very much about human interaction and how we prioritise decisions.
The Dardennes emphasise the ominous and consuming nature of the task by often only having Sandra in frame, even if other people are in the scene. The emotional toil forced on her is heartbreakingly captured in Cotillard’s agonising performance. Popping Xanax to stay in control, facial close-ups portray the anguish she’s really experiencing. However, as much as Sandra’s plight is completely valid, the Dardennes hint at the problems of the others who need the extra finance – we’re reminded that many people have fiscal difficulties. This is a very clever film that gives equal weight to people’s personal economic issues and the emotional frustrations they can create.