Movies.ie caught Rust and Bone at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, and were present at the press conference featuring director Jacques Audiard, Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts.
Rust and Bone tells the story of Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a couple who meet during a nightclub brawl. Ali drives Stephanie home and leaves his number in case he ever needs her. Some time later, she calls. Stephanie trained killer whales at a marine park in Antibes on the French Riviera, but has lost her legs due to an accident. The more these two people spend time together, the more they come alive through one another.
Rust and Bone is adapted from a collection of short stories by Craig Davidson, Ali and Stephanie – the main characters – are not in that novel, so how did you draw inspiration from this collection of short stories?
Jacques Audiard: With Thomas [Bidegain – screenwriter] we wrote a proceeding film that was very masculine, it took place in a prison, there was not very much light, the area was very confined and there were no women. So we wanted to portray a love story full of light and space and that is what happened. The Craig Davidson book is something that I read and I appreciated it because of it’s literary qualities and it sort of was mulled over in my mind and we talked about it with Thomas and I thought ‘why not have a love story in this time of crisis?’ that’s why the male character and the female character are completely transformed and a love story occurred.
Marion, how do you play a character who has lost their legs in such a real way?
MC: When she loses her legs most of the time I was in a wheelchair and then you just have to use your imagination. I don’t really know how I can explain this, but one just just tries to imagine that one does not have any legs any more. Then, when I stand up, we had to find something that looked good on the screen because when you live with false legs or artificial limbs, it usually works quite well, so I had to imagine that I had these metal legs. WI really had to get under the skin of the character and Jacques kept saying to me ‘let’s imagine that she forgets she has lost her legs, so she tries to stand up and falls over, because she has forgotten she has not got legs any more’. So that was what we tried to portray in the film.
Jacques, can talk about your fascination with physical power?
JA: Yes, physical strength and power, of course I do portray it at length in the film. Matthias does not conform with my idea of male power in any way…
Matthias Schoenaerts: I beg your pardon?
JA: I mean in terms of physical strength and power, no Matthias does not conform to my usual male criteria. I like small men and I myself was very surprised to choose this very large, tall man with strong muscles, but that is what the film is all about. It tells the tale of these characters at a time of crisis. People, in order to eat, have to sift through the contents of garbage bins… It is a time of crisis and that is what I wanted to show in the film. That is why physical power becomes very important. It is the only thing people have, it is the only thing he has because he isn’t very conversant of fluent in terms of language and so all he has to fall back on is the physical power and strength.
Jacques, to what extent is this a literary adaptation? How did you work with Craig Davidson’s text to create your vision?
JA: I believe that we worked at length with Tom on the text. We created new characters because we wanted to tell this love story and what we realised was that we had been fairly faithful to Craig Davidson in terms of colour, mood, atmosphere… We weren’t faithful to the letter but we were faithful in terms of form. What we wanted to do was to adapt these short stories but the tale takes place in France. Craig Davidson’s stories are very hard, they are very harsh, they are very solitary, so we wanted to add a bit of life and sun, hence the idea to portray a love story.
How do you work together?
JA: We work extremely well together.
Thomas Bidegain: Jacques showed me these short stories and I read them. I was working on the editing of Un Prophet and the idea was to produce this film. We met every morning and got to work and then in the afternoon we worked independently and this took about 2 years to do.
Matthias, has Hollywood been calling?
MS: Last week they called me for Rambo 34 [laughs] and I said I will do it if I get 35 and 36 as well! There is a lot of stuff moving and I am excited, but I am not in a rush, so I take my time and I just look for exciting projects. There is definitely stuff moving in the States but I am not in a rush. I got time. I am quite young… I guess.
MC: I think Matthias is a tremendous actor. I think he can play all sorts of different parts. I wish him a vast career. I have been very fortunate to work in different countries, I have had the opportunity to explore different cultures and characters, that is very interesting and I am not at all worried about Matthias.
Marion and Matthias, your characters have to go through trials and ordeals that many people never experience. Have you had similar experiences in your personal life?
MC: I don’t have the impression that these 2 people are so far removed from the daily lives of many people, I am sorry to disagree with you. In fact, I have the impression that they belong to the sad reality of many people. Of course, we all have ordeals in our lives and tough times we have to overcome. We all have a survival instinct, however, that is something we all share and what we also share is the quest for happiness. When you have enough strength to turn to life and happiness, one can overcome these difficulties and these ordeals in life, sometimes these tragic, dramatic situations.
MS: Of course, we all experience trials and tribulations in life, but they help us as actors and actresses. Sometimes also we can open up new avenues and paths for people when they watch our films, that is one of the things we try to do when we are actors. If we can help to give some guidance to people who are a bit lost in life, that gives meaning to our job as actors.
Jacques, the fight scenes are incredible, how did you create these?
JA: I worked with Olivier Schneider. I have done three films with him. He trained Matthias for quite a long time. I have a problem when filming violence, personally. It is a bit strange to say that I hate violence because in each film there is violence, I keep reverting to it. Olivier knows what I am going to like. The idea was to make things as realistic as possible, however, we didn’t want things to be too gory for a very simple reason; the female character is watching these scenes, and if things get too gory I felt that this would be a drawback. For example, Stephanie watches Ali when he is fighting, and I wanted her to admire his courage. I don’t think that violence per se is something that is going to appeal to her, so there was a tremendous amount of rehearsing; Oliver Schneider worked with Matthias a lot and he periodically showed me little bits of film and I said ‘yes this is good’ or ‘not that’. Usually we had two cameras to shoot the fights, we were quite poor, in other words.
Jacques, why did you bring your film to the Cannes Film Festival?
JA: Well, it was shot nearby so we thought it would be very handy to pop in! I had the Palais just a step away and I thought maybe we could drop by. The film was shot in Cannes because there is only one marine land in France with killer whales, it is in Antibes just along the coast so the story had to take place in Antibes. I wanted to shoot the film in a very sunny place on the French Riviera.
Jacques, how did you cast the film?
JA: When we were writing the screenplay we were not really thinking about the actors and once we finished I obviously thought about Marion because I had wanted to work with her for quite some time. I wanted our destines to come together. I was overwhelmed with some of her films. When it comes to the male character, we thought at first about a non-professional actor. We did some casting in boxing stadiums and sports centres but something just didn’t click, it didn’t work. It was different. It was too overly realistic. Then the casting director showed me Bullhead – it hadn’t screened in France yet – and I think it is a fabulous film. I thought Matthias was great so that is how it happened. That is the tale of the casting.
Jacques, it took two years to prepare, how was this time divided up?
JA: Prior to actual shooting, it took us two years to write the actual screenplay and then we prepared. I know we did not have a lot of time available. We were given dates for marine land, Marion had her commitments as well and we knew that we couldn’t delay the shooting of the film. We thought we would just jump in at the deep end. Matthias had to do some physical preparation for the film so I saw him quite often in Paris. That’s how things worked out. I like doing things differently each time. It was good to leave things as a surprise, things had to move fast, just like the love story. I don’t regret anything. It was excellent, it was a film without a lot of preparation and it worked out extremely well.
Marion, how did you prepare for the role?
MC: When I read the screenplay I was really overwhelmed by the story and very excited because generally, when I read a script and I feel the story moves me and I want to be part of the adventure I find that I immediately understand the character. I understand who the person is. Not completely, not entirely of course, because it takes time to discover a character and that is also what excites me as an actress. When I reached the end of the script I still didn’t know who she was! Jacques said that he didn’t know either, and the idea to learn about this character together really excited me and inspired me.
Marion, do you think there is a great difference between French and American cinema?
MC: I am often asked that question, but it is very difficult to answer it. Each adventure is different, and that it what I like about what I do. Insofar as I am concerned, as an actress, a film by Jacques and a film by Michael Mann are totally different and the huge differences between a film by Michael Mann and a film by Chris Nolan, so each adventure has it’s own captain and no two adventures are the same. That’s what’s wonderful.
Marion and Matthias, what was it like to work together?
MC: Working with Matthias is always very intense. It is always very intense to work with a great actor and to be on a set and forget you are actually on a set because the set becomes reality, it is no longer just a film. I felt very fortunate to work with such outstanding actors. Matthias is one of these people like DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and many others, he is of that ilk. He launches into a project and becomes totally committed to a part, and then of course there is the talent. There are some things that can’t be explained. There are no words to explain. There is the desire, the will to explore as well and that is something Matthias very much has. The first time I saw him we were reading a text with Jacques and I saw him, then we read through the script together and immediately I felt this tremendous joy to be able to work with someone who I didn’t know at all, but from the very first reading completely filled me with the thought that this would be a very beautiful experience.
MS: Wow. Right at the very beginning I was intimidated, and I thought ‘I am never going to manage, I will be useless, hopeless’ I was very anxious about this. The first day when we started shooting with Marion, she was in a wheelchair and she looked totally depressed. I thought ‘this is not going to work out very well. I don’t know what to do, should I talk to her?’, she was looking very sad and depressed and I didn’t realise that she was already completely in Stephanie’s world. It made me really scared. She is an exceptional actress and she does everything to her utmost ability. Jacques is always highly demanding, very sensitive, highly intelligent and he enables us to expand and develop and move into areas that we might never have thought of, so I was very very happy to be in this film with Marion, to work with Jacques, it was overwhelming. It was a tremendous gift.
Jacques, Marion has played many different parts, what made you think she would be great as Stephanie?
JA: I was deeply touched by Marion’s acting in the film. Marion is a very sensual yet virile actress and what I saw in La Vie En Rose was that she was truly capable of moving over to the other side; she can follow through with an emotion completely and reach the other side of the wall, so to speak. There are many many actors and actresses, but there are very few who can really plunge into a character in the way that Marion does, yet she is so feminine all the time.
Jacques, this isn’t the first time you have put a character on a spiritual journey, what is it about this that interests you?
JA: Well, I would be tempted to say that that is what dramatic art is all about, but I don’t want to sound trite. There is something that is striking in the screenplay. The characters were going to go through major changes through the film. For example, Stephanie is an arrogant princess at the start of the film and she was going to experience life, is life a way of just relaxing and opening up to others? Well, that is something that she is going to learn, thanks to her misfortune, thanks to her accident. Ali is full of his own body, he has so many problems with words; he is just going to learn to say ‘I love you’. That is the tremendous progress that that character makes. I am not sure if it is huge spiritual progress, but it does help in life. These are characters who try to rise above their situation throughout the film. I am not sure if this is a spiritual quest per se, these are people who are trapped in very difficult situations and that is what we wanted to show. This was in the short stories as well; we wanted to show these simple destinies or fates that were magnified by accidents. Ali and Stephanie are characters who, throughout the film and with all their physical strength, try to rise above their situation. She tries to tries to rise above her situation as an amputee and he rises above his situation as well.
How did you make Stephanie’s legs look the way they did?
JA: I cut them! They grew back nicely! I couldn’t have done this film some 10 years ago because it would have been impossible and had I turned it into a special effect it would have been too heavy and a real bind. Now things are much easier, you just put special devices and you can do away with the bottom segment of the legs. Now you can use a hand held camera to produce special effects. It is tremendous progress; one can be totally realistic.
Matthias, your character feels similar to the one you played in Bullhead. Would you agree?
MS: To me, basically, they are totally different characters. There is a physical aspect to it that makes them look quite similar but I think their basic energy was totally different. I think Ali is just taking life the way it comes and just dealing with life. He is happy about it. He is selfish but he is simple, he’s sincere. He is not a guy who is calculating his life, he is just living it the way it comes and to me, that’s absolutely different to Jacky. I think there is something that we are overlooking here, I think the story is one about reconciliation, and that to me is probably the biggest theme in the film. It is reconciliation between man and woman, father and child, brother and sister, man and animal. To me, that is something that is very important in this day and age. I don’t want to be too romantic about it, or too philosophical, but I think that is something that touches us on our deepest level and I think that is an awareness that should be raised.
What was your first emotion when you watched the film?
JA: I felt scared. When we saw it for the first time we thought there was a lot of work to be done, but it is a lengthy process. You have to see a film several times over and then it turns into what you really want it to be. After several series of editing, you start to feel that the film is what you were aiming for. It complies with the initial project.
MC: When I see a film I am in for the very first time, it is very complicated, it is very disturbing.
Words – Brogen Hayes