Publication: National Post

Opening doors opened the door for Marion Cotillard and Two Days, One Night

Opening doors opened the door for Marion Cotillard and Two Days, One Night

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.”

Five things we learned at the press conference for Blood Ties, featuring Marion Cotillard

Five things we learned at the press conference for Blood Ties, featuring Marion Cotillard

What: Blood Ties, French director Guillaume Canet’s fourth feature film about a pair of brothers (played by Billy Crudup and Clive Owen) — one a cop, the other a criminal — in 1970’s New York. Marion Cotillard plays the mother of Chris’s (Owen) children, who’s trying to run her own brothel.

When: Sept. 10, 10:45 a.m.

Who: Director Guillaume Canet, producer Alain Attal, Marion Cotillard

1. Canet, who has long been fascinated with the 1970’s, has always wanted to set one of his films during this period in New York.
“I grew up with … the cinema of the 1970’s in the U.S. Like Sam Peckinpah and Jerry Schatzberg,” said the Tell No One director, seated beside his real-life partner, Cotillard. “I’ve always been very excited about making a movie of that genre.”

2. Canet and Cotillard admit there are ups and downs to being in a working and personal relationship.
The couple, who have been together for several years and have a child, talked at length about the difficulties of both living and work together. “I trust Guillaume 200 per cent,” said Cotillard. “I would do anything for him to get what he wants. When he’s not happy, it touches me deeply. But it’s interesting to be in the life of someone who’s in the creative process. Even though it’s sometimes really hard to live, sometimes it’s heaven and sometimes it’s hell. But I’m supportive because I know this creative process is really intense.”

3. Don’t ask the La Vie en Rose actress about her personal life, even if you disguise it as a question about Parisians being more romantic.
When a journalist asked how the couple keeps the romance alive at home since France is the most romantic country in the world, Cotillard gracefully responded, “I cannot answer this question. We never talk about our personal life.” Canet quickly turned to the actress and said, “You can just say I’m very romantic at home, too.”

4. Cotillard accepted the role partly because she was looking for a film set in the 1970’s, since she’s acted in films from virtually every other period in recent history.
“I was very excited to explore this period because I had explored the 20s, 40s, 50s, 60s, even the 80s, but never the 70s,” said Cotillard, to which Canet joked, “This is why I picked the 70s, to make sure she would accept.” The actress, smiling, replied, “No, I would have accepted anything,” before adding, “There is a special groove to the 70s and I loved working on the very specific body language that really comes with what they wore and the period’s time and the way people wanted to set themselves free of the constrictions that they had lived in for years.”

5. Cotillard, who dons an Italian accent in the film, had no trouble picking up Polish for a role, but failed miserably at learning Italian.
Cotillard had to learn some Polish for her work in the film The Immigrant, but says she simply couldn’t pick up Italian for Blood Ties (even though it was all her idea!) “I wanted to learn a little bit of Italian, but I failed,” said Cotillard. “It was kind of dramatic for me, but I didn’t have to speak Italian in the movie so it was’t like a major public failure … The amount of time it took me to learn four lines in Italian was the same amount of time it took me to learn 20 pages in Polish. I mean, I am really not good at Italian.”