With no bells, whistles or fanfare, the Dardenne brothers – Jean-Pierre and Luc – have been writing, producing and directing their own brand of Belgian naturalism since the ’90s. Before that they made documentaries. Ignored by the multiplexes, but loved by the critics, their modest, moving films sound eminently missable. Then you watch one...
As an ordinary woman on the edge, Cotillard is excellent, the camera rarely leaving her face as she cycles from deep despair to tiny triumphs. Although she takes almost an hour to crack a smile, we’re always invested in Sandra’s plight, and through glimpses of her colleagues’ differing home situations – many of which make hers look charmed – the film becomes more and more engrossing. There’s no music but what plays on the radio, and minimal camera movement. Just real-seeming people talking reasonably and a life, quietly, changed.
Belgium’s best-kept secrets are breaking through without selling out, and their unshowily inspiring domestic drama reminds us you don’t need to go to war – or prison – to earn redemption.