Following this morning’s world premiere of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s “Two Days, One Night” at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Marion Cotillard is now unquestionably a front-runner for an award from this year’s jury led by Jane Campion. Cotillard made history as the first French actress to win the Best Actress Oscar (for “La Vie en Rose”) for a French language performance, but she has yet to win that same honor at the festival, despite powerful performances in a number of films that have premiered in competition over the years, including “Rust and Bone,” and last year’s “The Immigrant,” which opened in select U.S. theaters last Friday.
In “Two Days, One Night,” Cotillard appears in every scene as Sandra, a mother who learns that she’ll be laid off from her job at an energy plant if she can’t garner enough votes from her co-workers to keep her on. The chief obstacle: the staff have been promised a 1,000-euro bonus if they vote to fire her, and work more hours. In his glowing review for Indiewire, Eric Kohn wrote that “Cotillard’s best work since ‘La Vie En Rose’ unquestionably ranks as her most credible turn, as the actress
demonstrates a fragility that never veers into the realm of overstatement.”
As one journalist at today’s press conference following the screening commented, the role of a “poor, virtuous underdog” recalls that of the titular character she played in “The Immigrant.” Asked to comment on what draws her to these types of characters, Cotillard said that she’s drawn to women who “are truly fighting for survival who discover within themselves things they didn’t realize they had.” “That’s what truly interests me in the human condition,” she explained. “I’m deeply touched by survivors. I’m deeply moved by people who manage to cope despite their situations.”
For the Dardennes brothers, “Two Days, One Night” marks their second time, following 2011’s “The Kid With a Bike” (which co-starred Cecile De France), they’ve worked with a major name talent like Cotillard. Having met Cotillard while co-producing “Rust and Bone,” they met with her to discuss the project and decided immediately that she was right for it.
Jean-Pierre said that they didn’t cast her to “break down the icon,” but because they knew she could “become Sandra, and understand the inner nature of the character.”
Cotillard revealed that prior to working with the brothers she had seen every one of their films, and had long wanted to collaborate. “I sensed [watching their films] that there would be a huge amount of work involved to achieve the perfection they do in their films,” she said.
She was right. Prior to the shoot, Cotillard and her co-stars got together for three intensive weeks of rehearsal, and continued to rehearse on set once the cameras began to roll. “The idea of these rehearsals was to achieve something absolutely perfect,” Cotillard said. “It’s like a dance.”
Cotillard said she had no plan of attack going into the project, instead just trying to understand how Sandra worked, a process she employs often in her work. “I try to go as deep as I can into the character to then be able to totally set aside the work aspect and become that person,” she elaborated. “I give up my identity to become that person. Once I find all the keys, the character drives me, rather than the opposite.”
Asked what type of challenge she’d be up for next, Cotillard said she’s “fascinated” by the idea of playing a man. “It strikes me as totally impossible, so that excites me.”