The film is set in Belgium. Sandra (Marion Cotillard) wakes up from a nap when the phone rings. It is her friend and coworker, Juliette, on the other line. Sandra is told something that upsets her. She goes upstairs and takes an antidepressant pill and beings to cry.
Sandra’s husband, Manu, gets home. He finds her in bed and tells her that Juliette called him and asks why she doesn’t want to go to the office. She says it’s no use. He tells her she can convince Dumont to agree to a new ballot. She told him the foreman talked to them and scared them and that they want their bonus. Juliette calls again and Sandra talks briefly to Juliette. She tells her husband that Dumont hasn’t made up his mind yet and is willing to see her before 5 P.M. Manu says he will take her and that they’ll pick the kids up on the way. She starts crying, depressed. She tells him, “It can’t start again.” She goes to the bathroom and takes more antidepressant pills, pointing out she has to because she’s crying like an idiot. Manu tells her to only take half and the only way to stop crying is to fight for her job. She tells him they can’t pay for the mortgage without her salary and they’ll have to go back to social housing. He tells her no, they won’t and not to give in. She continues to cry.
Sandra is dropped off at her workplace and greeted by Juliette. They rush to find Mr. Dumont but he has just left. Sandra asks why he didn’t wait, discouraged. Juliette catches Mr. Dumont in his car. Juliette does all the talking, asking for a new ballot on Monday because Jean-Marc poisoned the vote by telling people Mr. Dumont wanted to lay off Sandra. He tells her he merely asked Jean-Marc to ask people if they preferred a bonus or to keep Sandra as an employee because they couldn’t afford both. Juliette tells him Jean-Marc had told some of them if Sandra wasn’t laid off, they’d fire someone else. Mr. Dumont says 14 out of 16 employees opted for the bonus so he doubts the results will change. Juliette says without Jean-Marc there influencing people, they might. He tells he doesn’t oppose a secret ballot on Monday. He then tells Sandra his decision isn’t personal but the company isn’t making as much money because of competition from Asian solar panels. But he reminds her that apart from two people, everyone chose the bonus. He drives away and Sandra needs a drink, embarrassed for not speaking. Juliette is encouraging, telling Sandra her presence is why he backed down and the others will feel the same way on Monday.
Sandra goes home with her kids and husband. He tells her he’ll get the addresses from Juliette. She doesn’t want to contact any of the people but he tells her to try.
Sandra’s daughter asks Manu if their mom is going to get “sick” again (i.e., depressed) if she loses her job. He tells her this won’t happen. He goes upstairs and finds Sandra, ready to go bed even though it’s only 7 P.M. He tells her she’s letting herself go and that she needs to react instead. She is upset that only Juliette and Robert voted for her to keep her job and she feels as if she doesn’t exist and is nothing at all. She breaks down, depressed and hopeless. Manu tells her to see everyone over the weekend and talk to each of them individually. If she tells them that she wants her job and to be with them, and not to end up on social welfare, they’ll understand. She is afraid she’ll look like a beggar. He tells her it’s not Sandra’s fault her coworkers had to choose between a bonus and her that was their boss’s decision.
At dinner, Sandra and Manu collect the addresses of her coworkers via Juliette on the phone, as well as her daughter checking the Internet. Sandra tells Juliette that she’ll take the bus to see some who live close to her and then Manu will drive her to homes later. Robert, the other coworker who voted for her, calls Sandra and tells her he saw Kader and he told Sandra to call him on the phone because he won’t be home that weekend. She goes into the other room and calls him. It is her first opportunity to pitch herself to her coworkers she garners her courage and tells him she’d like for him to vote for her to keep her job and she needs her salary. From her side of the conversation, it appears Kader doesn’t want to lose his £1,000 bonus. He suggests refusing to vote to be neutral but she said it wouldn’t be enough. Kader finally agrees to vote for Sandra to keep her job in lieu of his bonus. She is thankful and now hopeful.
Sandra rides the bus through town, taking a Xanax on the way. She arrives at the first house and uses the intercom to call upstairs for her coworker Mireille. She is told by a man that Mireille isn’t there but she’ll back around 12:30 or 1:00. Sandra says she’ll come back.
After asking directions, Sandra walks to her next coworker’s house. His name is Willy and his wife says he’s out back. Sandra explains to Willy while she’s there Dumont agreed to a new ballot on Monday because Jean-Marc scared some people. She asks him if he’d agree to vote for her to keep her job. Willy says he didn’t vote against her, he voted to keep his bonus and that Dumont was the one who forced them to choose. She says it’s sick for him to do that but without her salary, her family can’t get by. Willy tells her he needs the bonus since his oldest daughter is in college and his wife agrees. He asks what the others say and she tells him he’s the first one he’s seen despite the three that have already promised her vote. He says he’ll think it over but his wife tells him he won’t; she tells Sandra they’ve been on “the dole” (welfare) since February and they salvage floor tiles to make ends meet. Sandra apologizes and asks for an address for Dominique or Alphonse. Willy gives her Yvon’s address, which is also his son’s (both work at the plant).
Sandra goes back to Mireille’s apartment and sees her in her lobby. She gives the same spiel as before -- Dumont agreed to a new ballot because Jean-Marc scared people. She asks for Mireille to vote for her but Mireille doesn’t want to lose her bonus and asks if the others are voting to lose it. When Sandra names off those who are in favor of her staying, Mireille tells her Juliette can afford to lose her bonus because her husband is a successful auto mechanic. Mireille says she has left her husband; her new boyfriend and her have to buy all new furniture and she needs the money. Sandra walks away, defeated.
Sandra gets off the bus and receives a call from Manu. She tells him that two already turned down her request in exchange for her bonus. She goes to the next house and uses the intercom to ask for Nadine. Her young daughter tells her that her mom isn’t there. Sandra hears Nadine telling her daughter what to say and asks why she won’t talk to her. She walks away upset.
Sandra meets her kids at the restaurant her husband works at. She has given up hope but he tells her they already have 3 of the 6 they’ve contacted. He goes back to work and Sandra leaves the table so her kids won’t see her crying. Her husband finds her outside. She tells him Nadine refusing to talk to her hurt her the most because Nadine and her were so friendly when she worked at the company. Sandra wants to go home, now feeling depressed again, but Manu encourages her to keep trying.
In the car, Sandra wakes up, screaming, having a nightmare that her daughter was drowning. She takes another Xanax despite her husband’s concern she is taking too much.
Sandra gets out at a new part of town she knocks on the door of a home and asks for Timur. His daughter tells her he’s training kids at soccer down the street and she points out the place. Sandra finds Timur on a soccer field. She gives him the spiel about the new ballot and Jean-Marc scaring everyone. Timur begins to get emotional, sobbing. He tells Sandra he will definitely change his vote and apologizes for voting for her bonus. She tells him she understands but he tells her he’s ashamed, forgetting all she did for him when he broke some solar panels, Sandra took the blame so he wouldn’t get in trouble. He asks how many people are voting for her and she says four with nine more to see. Timur tells her he’ll call Miguel to let him know she’s coming. Sandra walks away, now confident.
Sandra walks up several flights of stairs to get to Hicham’s place. The power is off so she couldn’t buzz up. His wife is there with his toddler but she says Hicham is not there. She asks if she can visit him, telling her that it’s important because he can help her keep her job so she can stay off the dole. The wife calls Hicham but he suggests waiting until Monday. She tells her today or tomorrow would be better. Hicham talks to her over the phone he tells her he is going to keep the bonus.
Downstairs, Sandra tells her husband that Hicham said no. She goes into a nearby convenience store to get some bottled water but spots Hicham in the back unloading boxes. He tells her he works there on weekends his wife is not allowed to say because it’s off the books and then apologizes for being curt on the phone, explaining that the bonus will pay for a year’s gas and electric bills. Sandra tells him she wants to work and earn a salary again. Hicham says he told Jean-Marc he wishes Sandra could stay and they could steal get their bonus but Dumont said no. He mentions Jean-Marc called him earlier that day so he wouldn’t change his mind. She wants to know why Jean-Marc wants her fired. Hicham doesn’t know but suggests he thinks she won’t work so well after being depressed. Sandra rushes off, unable to breathe. In the car, Manu opens the water bottle for her and she drinks, exhausted. She takes deep breaths out the window as he drives away.
Manu and Sandra eat ice cream at the park she isn’t hopeful they can change enough minds. He tells her they can and she has to ignore the asshole of a foreman she works for. Sandra wonders if she’s still up for work now that she keeps having depressive episodes. He says that she did get back to normal but learning that she was fired knocked her out, like it would anyone, and if she went back to work, everything would return to normal. Sandra remarks that she wishes she was like a nearby singing bird (a.k.a. happy). As they leave, Sandra tells Manu she can tell they’re going to get a divorce because he doesn’t love her anymore, only pities her. She asks if it bothers him that they haven’t made love in four months. He says it does but he knows they’ll do it again.
Sandra rings someone’s buzzer but there is no reply. Around the corner, she sees who she’s looking for Yvon and his son, Jérôme, both coworkers, working on a car. Sandra goes through her spiel, saying there will be a new ballot on Monday because Jean-Marc influenced the vote by telling people things to scare them. Her son asks what Jean-Marc said and she tells him that he said if Sandra wasn’t laid off, someone else would be. He asks who he said it to and Sandra says three or four people and that Juliette knows the specifics. He scoffs, “She knows everyone, that one” and walks away. Sandra then addresses Yvon who asks what the others say. Sandra tells him Juliette, Robert, Kader and Timur vote for her to stay but she still has eight people to see, including the two of them. She says that if Jean-Marc called him to tell him she can’t work, it’s not true she’s in good shape. Yvon says he doesn’t want her laid off but he doesn’t want to lose his bonus. She says she didn’t force this decision on him and she just wants to work and make a living. Yvon’s son interjects, “We worked for that bonus.” He begins to argue with Sandra, lunging at her while claiming she’s trying to steal their money, but his dad protects her. They get in a scuffle and the son gets in his car and drives away with his girlfriend. Sandra and Yvon are both knocked on the ground, hurt. Manu comes over and helps Yvon up; Sandra pours her bottled water over his head to wake him up. Yvon says Sandra can count on him on Monday (to spite his son).
Back at home, Sandra is feeling guilty for having caused a family riff. She tells Manu she feels like a beggar or a thief coming to take their money. She sets up to go to bed, even though it’s still daylight out. Manu reminds her they were planning on seeing Miguel and that they already have five votes in her favor. She tells him she only has two and only forced the other three to vote for her, out of pity. If she gets her job back, she’ll have to deal with all the people who lost their bonus because of her. She doesn’t want to show up on Monday and wants the vote to happen without her.
Sandra goes upstairs and takes another antidepressant. Manu calls upstairs to tell her Juliette’s called. Sandra tells him she’s going to bed. Later, Manu enters her bedroom, telling her Timur got Miguel to vote for her. They now have six votes and are only three short from a majority. Sandra tells Manu she feels alone. He tells her they’ll make it.
The next day, Sandra walks to a house with a lot of construction in the front. She rings the bell but there is no response. She walks away but a woman, Anne, spots her and runs after her. She knows Sandra is there about the new ballot, having been told by Nadine. Sandra asks why Nadine wouldn’t see her and Anne tells her Nadine wanted to keep her bonus. Anne asks how many votes she has so far and Sandra tells her six with five more to see, including her. Anne tells her husband and her discussed it and they need the bonus for expenses on their house. She apologizes and Sandra begins to cry, hurt. Anne tries to comfort her but Sandra tells her she’s just nervous about the vote on Monday; she walks away. Anne runs after her, saying she’s been thinking about it since Friday she needs the money but she’ll talk to her husband. She asks for Sandra’s number so she can call her with an update; alternatively, Sandra can come back after 1 P.M.
Sandra is driving with Manu. She is given a new address over the phone by Juliette. She is asked about Anne and tells Juliette that Anne has to talk with her husband. Manu shouts that Anne will say ‘yes.’ Sandra ends the call and a depressing song comes on the radio. Manu turns it off and Sandra tells him not to protect her. He turns the radio back on. She turns the volume up and smiles. She is becoming happy again.
Sandra goes to the house of Julien. His wife tells her that he’s at the café down the street. She walks over and observes through the window. She returns to Manu and tells him the café is packed. She wants to wait until Monday; Manu suggests they get some food while they’re there. They go in the café and Sandra spots Julien outside with his son. She tells him about the new ballot on Monday because of Jean-Marc influencing voters. Julien asks how many are willing to lose their bonus and she says six. He tells his son to go home and then asks Sandra who has agreed. Sandra gets suspicious and tells him she can’t tell him the names because it’s a secret ballot. Julien tells her the others might be able to get by without a bonus but his wife and him are counting on it. She tells him she didn’t decide for them to make that choice; he says neither did he. She says goodbye and walks away; he calls her back, asking if he can be frank. He says when she was gone on sick leave, Dumont realized they only need 16 people on staff to do the job. She points out that Juliette told her this would require three overtime hours a week from everyone but he replies that they don’t mind earning extra money. Sandra tells him if the majority vote for her, she will be back on Monday. He tells her good for her and departs.
Sandra is now exhausted in the car. They return to Anne’s house but Sandra has no more energy and wants to just talk to the remaining coworkers on Monday. Manu tells her Julien has gotten to her and the boss never promised overtime in exchange for Sandra being fired. He was trying to discourage her so he wouldn’t lose his bonus; if Anne agrees, she’ll have seven and only need two more. She takes another Xanax to get the courage to go back to Anna’s door.
Sandra rings Anne’s doorbell. Anne tells her she’s still talking to her husband. Sandra is apologetic for bothering her. Anne’s husband overhears the conversation and comes out to yell at Sandra, asking if she enjoys pissing people off. He grabs Anne and yanks her back in the house. They begin arguing.
Back in the car, Sandra tells Manu she wants to go home and she doesn’t want to piss anyone off. She thinks Jean-Marc is right and she’s not up to working anymore. Sandra’s phone rings but she doesn’t answer. Manu gets a call on his phone it’s Maxime, their son. Sandra talks to him, lovingly, and then speaks to her daughter.
Back at home, Sandra makes the bed of her son, then goes downstairs. Manu says Juliette called and wants to talk to her. Sandra ignores him and talks about getting sandwiches for the kids’ picnic the next day. She leaves the house and walks to the shop.
Sandra is back in her bathroom. She pops all the Xanax pills she has left into a cup and then swallows them. She goes to her room to fall asleep one last time but Manu calls for her. She goes downstairs and sees Anne who tells her she’ll vote for her on Monday she now has seven of the nine. Sandra admits that she’s taken the entire box of Xanax. Anne calls an ambulance as Manu tries to get Sandra to forcefully vomit.
Sandra is now in the hospital. She asks for some food. Manu visits her and she apologizes. Sandra asks about Anne and is told she’s in the waiting room. She then suggests they visit the last three people that night, which surprises Manu.
Sandra and Anne walk with Manu to his car. Anne tells Sandra she decided to leave her husband, having never made a decision for herself. Sandra says she can sleep at their place, an invitation which Anne accepts.
It is now late. Sandra goes to a house and rings the bell. Dominique answers, saying Yvon told him she was coming but that he’s the only breadwinner at his home and can’t afford to lose his bonus. She tries to debate but he tells her he agrees with her fighting for her job but it will simply be a disaster for him if he loses his bonus; yet he hopes, for her sake, she does.
Sandra gets back in the car and asks Anne if she wants to be driven back to her husband. Anne says it’s better separating. Sandra tells her she shouldn’t feel obliged to vote for her but Anne says she’s happy to support her. Manu plays rock music and they all move to the beat and sing along to the chorus.
Sandra goes to Charly’s apartment but she gets no response. She tries Alphonse next his young sister answers the door. Their mom tells them he’s at the Laundromat. She goes to talk to him he tells her he wants to vote for Sandra to get her job back; it’s what God tells him to do, to help his neighbor. But he’s afraid of the others, which is why he didn’t vote for her on Friday. Since he’s the newest employee, his bonus would only be 150 euros anyway but Jean-Marc convinced him he would get fired if Sandra stays and that everyone else wants their bonus. Sandra tells him that it will be a secret ballot the next day. He asks how many already changed their mind and she said it’s a total of eight with him and nine if she can get Charly. He thinks about it and then says he’ll vote for her. She thanks him. He calls her back and asks if, without his vote, she won’t have a majority. He’s afraid Jean-Marc will know his vote was the deciding one. She says not to be afraid because the majority would have voted like him; he says he’s on a fixed-term contract that’s due for renewal at the end of September. If Jean-Marc gives him a bad report because of his welding mistakes, his contract won’t be renewed and he won’t have a job. She realizes they both are scared of Jean-Marc.
The next morning, Sandra and Anne get dropped off at the plant. She kisses her kids and Manu goodbye. She is in good spirits. Robert and Juliette greet Anne and Sandra and all go inside.
Sandra finds Charly and tells him seven are voting not to get their bonus with one hesitating (since Alphonse is wishy-washy). Charly says he needs the bonus but he’ll see. She tells him £1,000 is a lot but she needs her job. She is interrupted when she hears a commotion Jean-Marc is there. Yvon’s son, Jérôme, says he won’t vote unless Jean-Marc stays and that Sandra being there could influence the vote the same way as him. Jérôme then calls her a bitch and he begins scuffling with his father again. Jean-Marc tells them to calm down and that he and Sandra will wait outside. Juliette tells the group that they’ll all have a piece of paper with “Sandra” and “Bonus” written on it and they’ll all circle one and put it in the box. Everyone agrees. Sandra and Jean-Marc step outside.
Jean-Marc asks Sandra if she’s happy now that she’s stirred up shit and that Friday’s ballot was enough. She tells him he shouldn’t have scared them to vote against her, saying she heard he told people that they’d be fired if she kept her job. He says he never said that. Sandra says he did and that he called people that weekend to change their minds. She says he’s heartless and walks away.
There is a long break of silence as Sandra waits in the hallway while the vote is tallied. Juliette finally emerges eight voted for her and eight against her. Because she doesn’t have the majority, she won’t get her job back. Juliette hugs Sandra and tells her those who voted for her are in the cafeteria. Sandra enters and thanks them all for her support, telling them she’ll never forget it. She hugs each one of them, including Alphonse, and tells Anne she can stay at her home that evening.
While Sandra is emptying her locker, she is told Mr. Dumont wants to see her in his office. She sits down and he congratulates her on convincing half the staff to give up their bonuses. Even though it’s not the majority, he wants to offer Sandra her job back AND dispense the bonuses. She smiles. He tells her, during her sick leave, Jean-Marc and him noticed 16 people could do the job instead of 17 so he won’t renew someone who is on a fixed-term contract but will have her take his spot (this is obviously Alphonse). She tells Mr. Dumont she can’t let someone else be laid off so she can have her job back. He says that the employee won’t be laid off; he simply won’t have his contract renewed. She tells him it’s the same thing. He says it isn’t. She says goodbye to him and exits.
Out front, Sandra is talking to Manu on the phone. She says it will be tough but she’ll start looking for a new job. She is in good spirits and before she hangs up, she tells her husband that they put up a good fight and also that she’s happy. She smiles as she walks with confidence away from the plant.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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Sandra has had to miss work for a long while due to depression. Right before she plans to return, she is told that her boss offered her coworkers a choice -- keep Sandra on the staff or accept a £1,000 bonus they were expecting. Sandra becomes distraught and her depression reemerges upon hearing this. But her coworker convinces their boss to take another vote on Monday since their foreman has influenced the original result. Sandra now has the weekend (two days and one night) to meet with all 15 of the coworkers who didn’t vote for her some change their minds, some are aggressive towards her, and one woman leaves her husband after they fight over her possibly losing her bonus. Throughout the process, Sandra’s depression either worsens from the cold-heartedness of her fellow employees or is alleviated through kindness. When the vote is tallied, Sandra has influenced half of her coworkers to support her but it isn’t a majority so she loses her job. Nonetheless her boss offers her position back in exchange for firing one of the new employees whose sole reason for initially voting against her was because he feared he’d be fired if she were rehired. Sandra rejects the offer and instead of being distraught at her loss, is confident and happy that so many people cared for her, no longer feeling alone. Fighting for her job was enough to reignite passion in her and to help rid of her mental funk.
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