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The Academy has bestowed a second nomination upon Marion Cotillard for her work in Two Days, One Night. Cotillard built up an impressive filmography through acclaimed supporting roles in projects such as Taxi, Big Fish, and A Very Long Engagement before cementing her status as one of cinema’s leading female talents in Olivier Dahan’s La Vie en Rose, an absorbing and unflinching biopic of French singer Edith Piaf.
Written and directed by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Two Days, One Night finds Cotillard in the role of Sandra, a Belgian mother of two whose battle with depression leads to an extended absence from the solar plant where she works. Finally healthy enough to return, Sandra discovers that in her absence, a vote took place at the plant. Her workmates were given a choice: vote to bring Sandra back, thus ensuring that their colleague keeps the salary on which she and her family depend, or receive a bonus of €1000 each. If they choose the latter, Sandra will be left unemployed. Upon discovering that the voting process has been sabotaged, Sandra has just one weekend to persuade her financially challenged workmates to forego their bonuses and vote for her return.
Suitably waif-like and hunched, Cotillard is compelling as a woman on the fringes of society. Sandra is a wisp of a person, a young woman whose ultimate capitulation to depression is just one rejection away. Cotillard effectively communicates the visceral, paralyzing effect of each disappointment without ever lapsing into showmanship. So frail is Sandra that we feel the full weight of every cruel word land on her, and we suffer the rejection that steals her breath and shakes her to her core. The crippling embarrassment of asking her colleagues to forego personal gain in her name is palpable.
The greatest challenge this role presents lies in the fact that Sandra is forced to make the same plea time and time again. The dialogue rarely deviates from the carefully scripted request that she must make to each and every one of her workmates, and in the hands of a lesser performer this would make for an excruciating 90-something minutes. It is only through a complete command of her character arc that Cotillard is able to breathe fresh life into each and every encounter. The success or failure of each request informs the next, and it is to Cotillard’s immense credit that she so deftly and accurately charts the highs and lows of Sandra’s quest. Audiences take a character’s smooth transition from one scene to the next for granted. In reality, imbuing a scene with the memory of that preceding it presents a huge challenge for an actor shooting scenes out of sequence. So in control of her character’s journey is Cotillard that we barely notice the seeds of confidence that creep up on Sandra as she approaches her fate.
I can’t help but think that this magnificent performance might be overlooked come the big night. That is not to suggest that Cotillard is less worthy; my doubts are purely based upon the Oscars’ predilection for a somewhat showier winner, as previously evidenced by their overlooking the subtle work of Carey Mulligan and Helen Mirren in favour of Sandra Bullock’s brash turn in The Blind Side. Cotillard’s raw, minimalist, and understated performance is a wonderful achievement and worthy of recognition, yet I suspect the statue will land elsewhere.
Thomas Mack (2L) is a Culture Editor for Juris Diction.
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