“Rust and Bone” is the first film that Marion Cotillard has carried on her shoulders since playing Edith Piaf. But her supporting roles –in Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies,” Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” Rob Marshall’s “Nine,” never failed to steal the show.
“I traveled a lot of amazing directors’ visions,” says Cotillard in her raspy, exquisite broken English, of the supporting parts she’s played since her Oscar-winning role in “La Vie En Rose.” (She could earn her second for Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone.”) “And I had an amazing time, but I needed to tell the story of a character. And when I read Jacques’ script, that was more than what I thought I would get.”
When Audiard approached Cotillard with the role, she was “more than thrilled; I was out of my mind!” She had long wanted to work with the director of the Oscar-nominated 2009 film “A Prophet,” and the experience was “even better than what I had expected.”
Cotillard’s whale trainer in “Rust in Bone” is not only responding to a debilitating accident but an unexpected person who enters her life. Ali (“Bullhead” star Matthias Schoenaerts) “is the only person who sees her as a human being in the most simple way,” she says. “He doesn’t see her as a woman [in the beginning]; that’s what she’s going to teach him. But he’s very straightforward, he’s rough and raw.”
Her role was not immediately clear to Cotillard; to the end she intentionally never solved that mystery. Audiard assured her: “We’ll have to find her.” Cotillard says, “I felt that we could take so many different directions. I liked the fact that I didn’t really know where I was going, but I was looking forward to taking the road to meeting her.”
During the film, Cotillard takes the journey as she embodies this complex woman. Cotillard drew on people she knows to find her, from two girls she knew in high school to Schoenaerts. “When I create a character I am always inspired by people–people around me, people I don’t know, lives that I’ve read.”
Ali, a semi-homeless fighter and father to a young boy, offers Stéphanie no pity. Their relationship develops with few words and without much awareness from Ali, but their bond draws strength from the pain which they like to ignore. Stéphanie is attracted to the physical brutality of Ali’s life, his fighting. “All this violence that is turned into power–this is something that she experiences inside herself,” Cotillard says, “that’s how she feels the very strong connection with him.”
One of Cotillard’s favorite scenes shows Ali losing a fight– until Stéphanie gets out of the van where she’s been watching him. As she moves towards him, with an unwavering look in her eye, he erupts with an unstoppable need to win. “This is the scene where the connection between the two of them is the strongest,” she says. “There’s this energy that flows between them. You don’t need words anymore.”
What Audiard does, so much of it without words, is give a shot of adrenaline to visual storytelling. “Rust and Bone” was shot by Audiard’s “A Prophet” cinematographer, Stéphane Fontaine. The clip below is one of many favorites that Schoenaerts and I discuss in our interview.
The script, which Audiard co-wrote with Thomas Bidegain (“A Prophet”), was inspired by two of Craig Davidson’s collection of short stories, also titled “Rust and Bone.”
AFI Fest screened “Rust and Bone” on November 5 with a tribute to Cotillard, who was also tributed at Telluride.