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VIFF 2014: 'Two Days, One Night' Asks Some Difficult Questions

09/29/2014 05:16 EDT | Updated 11/29/2014 05:59 EST

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A working class mother is returning to work at a small factory following a mental health leave, only to discover she's about to be ousted by her own colleagues. In "Two Days, One Night", renowned Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne bring to light a question that all of us have faced at one time or another: do the right thing, or take care of yourself?

Set in small town Belgium, Sandra (Marion Cotillard) finds out on the Friday before she is set to go back to work that her boss has given her 16 co-workers a choice. Either they vote to Sandra out of her job and collect a €1,000 bonus each, or vote to have her stay and receive nothing. Sandra begs her boss to conduct the vote again on Monday, giving her two days and one night to convince each of her co-workers to vote to save her job.

With each visit, she is presented with a completely different reaction. One man is brought to tears, while another starts a fight. One man's wife demands he vote against her because they're planning to use the bonus money for a new patio.

Just as Sandra begins to lose hope, her supportive husband (Fabrizio Rongione) urges her on, while their two children help look up phone numbers and addresses. The love of her family forces Sandra to keep going, despite looking like she could crumble at any moment. But will her efforts save her job or land her back on the dole?

You'll like this film if..

You enjoy exploring the psychology behind what motivates us to choose one path over another. Does it make you less of a person for looking after the interests of your own family? Does integrity trump all? That theme makes this film accessible for just about anyone.

You won't like this film if..

You have a tough time staying engaged in a story that feels cyclical. After a while, Sandra's plea to save her job becomes redundant, so with 16 co-workers to convince, I found myself counting down to the last one.

Standout performance

Cotillard is a master at capturing the subtle nuances of a character and morphing into that person before our eyes. Her slumped posture and sullen expression are consistent, portraying the symptoms of clinical depression sensitively and intelligently. The brightly colored, bra-strap bearing tank tops she wears throughout are the perfect juxtaposition as we see glimpses of her spirit shine through the dark cloud that surrounds her.

"Two Days, One Night" screens again at VIFF on Oct. 1 at the Vancouver Playhouse. Visit viff.org for tickets and show times.

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