Belgian filmmakers the Dardenne brothers are aiming for a record third top prize at Cannes with a drama about moral compromise during tough economic times starring Oscar winner Marion Cotillard.
Two Days, One Night, one of 18 features vying for the Palme d'Or award at the world's top film festival, tells the story of an employee of a small solar panel factory.
Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne cast Cotillard as Sandra, a woman who has been on sick leave after a nervous breakdown who has just one weekend to convince her colleagues to vote to sacrifice their annual bonuses so she can keep her job.
Sandra and her husband are trying to raise two children and pay off a mortgage in a suburb of Liege while she is battling a pill addiction.
The film drew enthusiastic applause at a press preview at Cannes and talk of a prize for Cotillard, who won an Academy Award in 2008 for her performance in La Vie en Rose.
Cotillard, who wears a sloppy fluorescent tank top and looks utterly exhausted during much of the film, said she sought complex parts of women at crossroads in their lives.
"I think these women are people who are truly fighting for survival and they discover reserves within themselves that they didn't know they had," she said of the roles her Oscar had allowed her take.
The film has received positive reviews, with Variety's Scott Foundas praising it as a "superb social drama".
A jury led by New Zealand director Jane Campion will hand out the top prizes on Saturday.
Watch the trailer for Two Days, One Night: