Two Days, One Night, film review: Marion Cotillard embarks on a mini-Odyssey

(15) Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, 95 mins Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione

The Dardennes' latest feature has an epic quality that belies its small-town setting. Marion Cotillard plays a young woman who has to convince her colleagues to renounce their annual bonuses so she can keep her job. This obliges her to embark on her own mini-Odyssey over a weekend, tracking down all her fellow workers and trying to persuade a majority to vote for her in the ballot determining her fate.

Most are sympathetic but they have their own money struggles. The Dardennes shoot the film in their usual naturalistic, pared down style. There are frequent shots of Cotillard's Sandra sitting in buses and cars as she travels all over the suburbs. We see her standing at doorsteps, waiting patiently for her colleagues, or following them down the street.

Sandra has been suffering from depression but her husband pushes her to keep on fighting for her job. The quest gives her renewed strength and self-respect. She never badgers her colleagues but states simply that her family can't survive without her salary. It's a different role from Cotillard's usual star turns but she plays it with conviction.

The premise seems far-fetched. Even in these days of weakened unions, you can't believe that bosses can play their employees off against one another in quite such a cruel and manipulative fashion. As drama, though, the film is utterly absorbing. The tension rises and rises the closer the quietly heroic Sandra comes to securing the majority she needs.