Cannes: Audiard sought to make film whose 'protagonist was love'
CANNES, France — Honored with nine Césars, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2009 and nominated for the best foreign-language Oscar, the intense prison drama “A Prophet” made French writer-director Jacques Audiard’s international reputation. But by the time it was over, the filmmaker was ready for something different.
“Fifteen weeks shooting, a 9-square-meter cell, no natural light, only men, no women,” he said, sitting on a rooftop terrace here Friday and recalling the exertions required to make “A Prophet.” “So I felt a strong desire to do a love story, with sun, with light, with space. A film with women.”
That film is “Rust & Bone,” screening at this year’s festival in competition, but don’t expect a soft, fluffy movie. Audiard’s idea of a love story is edgy and fearlessly emotional.
Starring Oscar winner Marion Cotillard as a trainer of killer whales and Belgian sensation Matthias Schoenaerts as a violent, disconnected security guard, “Rust & Bone” has been well-received here, further cementing Audiard’s place in the very top rank of French directors.
Cotillard’s Stephanie is an Orca trainer in a Marineland-type facility in Antibes, France, who loses her legs after an attack by one of the beasts. (Asked at a news conference here about the particulars of the computerized special effects used to achieve the loss of limbs, the 60-year-old Audiard said impishly: “I cut them.”)
Schoenaerts’ Ali is the nominal single parent to a 5-year-old boy, but his strongest emotional attachment is to the unchecked violence of the mixed martial arts-type street fights he takes part in.
When he was at Cannes with “A Prophet,” Audiard spoke of his longstanding interest in what he called “self-education, the building of someone’s character,” and the director says his new film fits that category as well.
“You can say the same thing about love; it has to do with our ability to let ourselves go, two people abandoning themselves to the other,” he says. “Stephanie at the beginning is an arrogant princess, she has to learn a totally different way of loving and sharing. And Ali, who comes from a very violent background, doesn’t know what letting the self go means. It’s not part of his vocabulary.”
The story of this wary relationship came out of the determination of Audiard and Bidegain “to tell a story where the protagonist was love, love in all its forms, between two adults and between a father and son,” the director said.
“My previous films have been clever about feelings, I’ve worked around them. Our desire here was really to make a melodrama, to look emotions in the eye and take them to the end, even to risk going too far and being excessive and ridiculous. Excess is good; finally, we need that.”
Besides “A Prophet,” Audiard’s other films include “A Self-Made Hero” (1996), as well as the multi-César winning “Read My Lips” (2001) and “The Beat that My Heart Skipped” (2005). He is the son of the highly respected writer and director Michel Audiard.
The success of a film like “Rust & Bone” is dependent on its actors. Because Ali’s character does considerable brawling, Audiard had initially thought of going with a professional fighter. But then his casting director showed him “Bullhead,” Schoenaerts’ breakthrough film, and the role was his.
As for Cotillard, Audiard said he had been “overwhelmed by some of her films. I wanted our destinies to come together. She’s a very sensual yet virile actress, truly capable of following through with an emotion and reaching the other side. There are few who can plunge into a role that completely, who can go that far.”
Though Audiard constructed the characters on the page, “the actors often understand the characters better than I do,” he said. “When you write people, you have biases, but actors see the characters in a different way and change them.”
“Sometimes I have this idea of actors as thieves of roles,” he added, getting increasingly amused by the conceit. “And I am the cop, running after them. Sometimes I shoot my gun in the air to scare them. But I don’t run too fast, because if I catch them, it’s finished.”
-- Kenneth Turan
Photo: Director Jacques Audiard, left, French actress Marion Cotillard, actor Armand Verdure and Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts arrive for the screening of "Rust & Bone" at Cannes. Credit: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images