Gritty social commentators the Dardenne brothers are back painting on their cinematic human canvas with the movie — a gut-wrenching parable on human survival and the value of 1,000 euros in a working-class Belgian community.
The film stars a magnificent Marion Cotillard — unrecognizable as depressed, Xanax-gobbling Sandra who embarks on a devastating two-day struggle, and even a brush with suicide, to save her job at a solar-panel factory.
The film that had audiences in sobs has already set social media alight with critics' whispers it's a heavyweight contender for the Palme d'Or.
If they succeed, the Belgian auteurs would break the record as the only filmmakers to have won three top awards in the entire 67-year-history of the Cannes festival. Their naturalistic films took the Palme d'Or in 1999, for "Rosetta," and in 2005, for "The Child."
Cotillard, too, has drawn praise and award-predictions.
The red-carpet beauty gives her all in her transformation as a hunched, scruffy and effaced mother-of-two who frequently breaks down in tears and is victim to debilitating panic attacks. With a history of depression, she has her life thrown back into chaos when her boss asks factory co-workers to vote to sack her or lose their 1,000 euro bonus.
In an odyssey exploring core human nature, in the film she visits each and every one of her colleagues to confront them with a choice: Self-interest or empathy.
Striking transformations are nothing new for the French actress, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of frail Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose." And in last year's "The Immigrant," she learned to speak Polish for the role.
Cotillard says she researches the psychology of the character, and the physical changes happen automatically.
"It's a work of investigation," she said. "All the physical behavior in each of us is a way to express ourselves."
She says after the initial research is over she simple gives the "car keys to the character" and the acting from day one happens as if on auto-pilot.
Her other niche, she admits, is taking on the role of the struggling underdog.
"I like complex roles ... beings that fight for their survival and that will in doing this discover things inside them that they didn't suspect," she said.
Cotillard's starry presence on this project has assured the biggest international exposure for Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne — who normally cast lesser-known figures.
In the United States, IFC has already announced it will distribute the movie later this year.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at http://twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP