Hollywood is famous for the “elevator pitch,” in which a movie can be described (and hopefully sold) in the ride between two floors. The Cannes Film Festival has introduced the “elevator meeting,” and the results have been fruitful.
Marion Cotillard first met Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne on the set of Rust & Bone, which screened in competition at Cannes in 2012, and in which she portrays a whale trainer who loses her legs. The Dardenne brothers were co- producers on that film.
“We met her by chance, coming out of an elevator holding her baby, and were won over immediately,” says Luc. “My brother and I looked at each other and we said, ‘We would like to work with you.’ ”
In their new film, Two Days, One Night, Cotillard plays Sandra, an employee at a small solar-panel manufacturer who loses her job when her co-workers must choose between laying someone off or losing their bonuses. After convincing her boss to allow a second vote on Monday morning, Sandra has the weekend to convince her 16 coworkers to give up their bonuses and let her keep her job.
It’s tear-jerking social realism and puts Cotillard in good stead for her first acting prize at Cannes. The Dardennes have won two Palmes d’Or (for 1999’s Rosetta and 2005’s The Child) and would be the first filmmakers to win a third if Two Days, One Night goes the distance.
In the film, the outcome of the second vote is never certain, and there’s an unexpected twist at the conclusion. “We took some time to find it,” Jean-Pierre says of the final scene. “We made several different proposals but none satisfied us.”
He speaks of their fraternal collaboration as a kind of machine. “When the machine doesn’t get going, it means the proposal isn’t right. If we can’t agree, there’s no point in working together as brothers.”
Cotillard gained prominence in America after winning an Academy Award for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in 2007’s La Vie en Rose. Since then she has moved easily between American and European productions, with roles in Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, even as a Canadian news anchor in Anchorman 2.
“I love complex roles,” she says of her part in Two Days, One Night. “Characters discover things within themselves that they didn’t realize they had, and that’s what interests me in the human condition. I’m deeply moved by people who manage despite difficult circumstances. I learn a lot when I explore these people’s souls.”
She likens her body to a car, and says that after discovering a role from the inside, “I hand the keys to the character and the character drives me.”
And, surprisingly, she would be willing to let a man take the wheel. Asked what role she would most like to play in the future, she says, “I’m fascinated with the idea of portraying a man, because it strikes me as impossible.”