By Michael Roddy
CANNES France (Reuters) - A Belgian film starring Oscar-winning French actress Marion Cotillard as a mother who must convince co-workers to forgo a bonus to save her job and her family home won immediate rave reviews on Tuesday at the 67th Cannes film festival.
"Two Days, One Night" by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who are Cannes regulars and previously won the top Palme d'Or prize, came across at a press screening as a "feelgood film" despite a plot that deals with people on the lower rungs of the middle class who risk slipping into poverty.
"Cannes favorite Marion Cotillard teams up with festival veterans Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne for a brilliantly taut and telling redundancy drama," critic Peter Bradshaw wrote for The Guardian newspaper.
With five days to go before the top awards are announced on Saturday, one industry critic praised the 12-day-long festival for being "well rounded".
"We've seen some very good movies, I'd say, in all the sections ... and a fair number of ones that just make you shrug your shoulders," Variety critic Jay Weissberg told Reuters.
"I think it has been a well-rounded festival, I think that's a good word," he added.
The Dardenne film quickly jumped into the top rankings of contenders to win the crowning Palme d'Or for best picture among critics and professionals attending the prestigious festival held in the Mediterranean seaside town.
Also highly ranked, according to a survey conducted by Screen International magazine, are British director Mike Leigh's "Mr Turner" about the last years of the pre-Impressionist painter JMW Turner, and the psychological portrait "Winter Sleep" by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Luc Dardenne said the brothers' film shows how personal contact with co-workers by the distraught young mother Sandra, who has recovered from depression but risks suffering a relapse due to the crisis, can bring out another side in people.
"It wasn't easy to show solidarity...because there's a drop of income," he said of the situation faced by the people Sandra asks one by one over a weekend for their support in a vote at a solar panel factory on Monday morning that will decide whether they get a bonus or she keeps her job.
"Solidarity is a sort of moral commitment, it's based on a moral decision," Dardenne said.
While it is sometimes hard today to see the kind of solidarity that drove social movements in the 1960s, "I think there are still people as you see in the film, who show solidarity - that's the story line," he said.
Cotillard, who won a Oscar for her 2007 portrayal of Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose", said she enjoyed the challenge of playing the working-class Sandra who becomes haggard as she wins over some colleagues but others refuse and even threaten her physically for proposing to take away the bonus.
"I'm really moved by people who cope despite circumstances, despite handicaps," she said. "I learn a lot about the human condition when I explore these peoples' souls."
INSPIRED BY FUKUSHIMA
Nature, and especially the power of a typhoon threatening a remote island, plays a central role in Japanese director Naomi Kawase's "Still the Water", another Palme d'Or contender.
Kawase, who is a Cannes regular and served on the prize jury last year, said her film - showing a budding relationship between a teenaged boy and girl whose respective families are beset by a collapsed marriage and a dying mother - had been in part inspired by the tsunami that hit Japan three years ago, causing the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.
"One is struck initially by the beauty of nature...but you have this fear that nature inspires," Kawase said.
"Three years ago as you know there was a major natural disaster in Japan and a total catastrophe at Fukushima...It was nature that went wild and what was moving and captivating is that despite peoples' fears they continue to live in such a dangerous environment. That's very moving indeed."
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)