As with their first Palme d’Or winner, Rosetta, the focus is on a woman struggling with unjust working conditions. This time the protagonist is an adult with a husband and two kids, a seemingly happier set of circumstances than Rosetta’s. Yet we soon discover that Sandra (Marion Cotillard) has been off work for depression and is still struggling to keep her life on an even keel thanks to an understanding husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione, a longtime collaborator with the Dardennes), and copious amounts of Xanax. It is in this fragile state that she learns she has been laid off. The film’s title refers to the amount of time the main character has to convince her sixteen coworkers to vote for her and forego their bonus at the solar panel factory.
The film follows Sandra on her journey around the city, knocking on the doors of each of her colleagues, asking them to save her job. Yet this is a journey on many levels, into the lives of these people struggling to make ends meet, on Sandra’s personal journey of depression and recovery, and a journey through Sandra and Manu’s relationship. Sandra states “I’m a mess again” and it seems unlikely she can keep it together enough to go pleading her case. She cries at the drop of a hat and it is only thanks to Manu that she perseveres. In one scene she meets up with coworker Timur and when she asks him to vote for her, he breaks down in tears. This is a nice reversal and shows how hard it is for people to deal with raw emotion.
Sandra’s own emotions go up and down depending on her colleagues’ responses. It is only after hitting her emotional rock bottom that she can bounce back. Though her depression and her attempted suicide might seem contrived (and her release from hospital highly unlikely) it represents how business and economics has no truck with weakness. We see how her plight touches others, but also the tensions it evokes. Her personal situation has repercussions for others. Sandra and her comrades could be anywhere in Europe, their precarious position that of so many today.
There is no score to the film, just occasional music on the radio. When “Gloria” comes on and the three passengers sing it is like a hymn to Sandra. Marion Cotillard is in every scene and shines as this delicate woman striving to make herself strong. Rongione as her patient and supportive husband puts in a strong performance. Again, the Dardennes also use lesser-known and non-professional actors, adding to the sense of naturalism. At no point does the film fall into hyperbole; there are no big speeches and no drama, even when events are dramatic. The Dardennes have gifted us yet another important and moving film and it would be churlish not to wish them that coveted Palme d’Or.