Where Talent and Stardom Intersect

Oct. 19, 2014 | By Bruce R. Feldman

If you want to be mesmerized by one of the finest performances on film of this or any year, then hurry to see the marvelous Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night” from the Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

The movie is dazzling in its stark, heart-wrenching simplicity, qualities it shares with the earlier Dardenne brothers pictures “L’Enfant” and “The Kid With A Bike.” These are spare (in their presentation) and affecting (in terms of emotional impact) stories about ordinary people who must resolve a difficult social or moral dilemma in order to move on with their lives.

In “Two Days” Cotillard plays a young working class woman about to lose her dull factory job. Cotillard’s husband has a menial position in a fast-food restaurant. They have two small children, a mortgage, and little hope of improving their situation. Already fragile from a nervous breakdown, Cotillard needs the job just to make ends meet. As if all this is not disturbing enough, the Dardennes have set their film in the ragged outskirts of a cheerless French city. Paris it’s not, to be sure.

Cotillard is that rare item: a true movie star and an astonishing acting talent in one.

What’s important here is the reason why Cotillard has run out of luck. Her employer has asked her co-workers to vote on whether she can keep her position or get their annual bonus. Times are tough; they cannot have both. Desperate, Cotillard must spend the weekend visiting each colleague at home to ask them to save her job, enduring the pain and embarrassment of either allowing them to make a sacrifice on her behalf or listening to them explain why they cannot, or will not, help her. How would you feel if you had to do that? It’s Ibsen set in 21st century France, but it could be anywhere.

Cotillard once again demonstrates that she is that rare item: a true movie star and an astonishing acting talent in one. Yes, she commands our full attention whenever she is on the screen, which in “Two Days” is every scene. But she brings much more to her work than just her luminous, compelling presence. She is at one with the role she is playing, losing herself in the character’s crushing frailties, looking like anything but the great beauty she is, making us believe that we are watching a real woman, not a gifted actress doing a star turn.

There have been transcendent stars and actors in every generation; few are both. Cotillard is poetry in motion pictures.

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