Cannes 2012: 'Rust & Bone' Director Jacques Audiard on his 'Unpitchable' French Film (Q&A)
It doesn’t take a prophet to predict that when Jacques Audiard makes a new movie, the film world is watching. The successful French director is known for his artsy yet accessible cinema that has won him top film prizes both at home and abroad. He explored revisionist history post World War II in A Self-Made Hero, brought an ex-convict and a nearly deaf woman together in Read My Lips, hit a high note with audiences everywhere with his musical drama The Beat That My Heart Skipped and then explored the inner workings of prison life in A Prophet, which earned him an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film.
Now, Audiard is back with Rust & Bone, a story about an unlikely pair of characters — Marion Cotillard’s psychically-challenged whale trainer and Matthias Schoenaerts’ financially-challenged boxer — who find each other. Audiard talked to The Hollywood Reporter about making the “unpitchable” film, shooting in Cannes and why everyone should always dress up to go to the movies.
The Hollywood Reporter: Where did the idea for Rust & Bone come from?
Jacques Audiard: It’s based on a short story by Craig Davidson. It was, first of all, a literary pleasure. I hadn’t read a short story that affected me so much in a long time. I was working on my last movie, A Prophet, and I talked about it with my screenwriter and that’s when it became a film project. Each film has a tendency to produce the next one. The whole men’s society — prison, minuscule scenery with no light and no women [in A Prophet] — after that we wanted to create a love story, with light and wide screen shots.
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THR: The film really focuses on Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts’ characters. Why did you choose them for the roles?
Audiard: I knew one day I’d work with Marion. I imagined that one day I’d work with her. It wasn’t Marion or someone else. It was just Marion. I didn’t imagine anyone else in the role. As for Matthias, at first I was looking for a non-professional actor. I looked in boxing rings and in gyms. I saw a lot of great people, but I decided it would be too complicated with someone at Marion’s level. My casting director showed me Bullhead and I chose Matthias based on that.
THR: Your films are very French, yet at the same time, are very successful abroad. When you make films, do you have international audiences in mind?
Audiard: No not at all. I have the impression that I make very French films. I never have made any films outside of France, the characters speak French (or Arabic). I don’t see myself filming realities other than those that I try to understand in France. I don’t have that perception.
THR: Once again you’ve managed to balance art house cinema with entertainment. What’s your secret for striking such a balance?
Audiard: I make films that are both auteur films and also entertainment. It’s possible. As a filmmaker and a film lover, I’m made of this mix of entertaining films and pure auteur cinema. Everything pleases me, everything enchants me.
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THR: Once again, the main character is an antihero, a flawed man who should be unlikeable, but you make the audience fall in love with him anyway. Why do antiheroes interest you?
Audiard: When you’re telling a story, the characters need to start from the bottom in order to have any dramatic progression. Yes, perhaps characters interest me more when they’re at their lowest points. Maybe virility interests me more when it’s defeated. Maybe the body interests me more when it is dented. Dramatically, it’s better to start from a hero who is struggling in order for the margin of the dramatic progression to be interesting. I like to start with people whose heroic value isn’t obvious, an anti-hero maybe. Look at Ali — he’s nothing, he’s a bum, he’s nobody. He looks just like the people lining up at soup kitchens.
THR: The film explores father-son relationships, a familiar theme in your work. Does it mirror your own in any way?
Audiard: I’d say it’s more about a father who doesn’t know he’s a father. The relationship he has to his son is more a relationship of a severe big brother. At the end, he discovers three things: One is the love for a woman, two is the love for his son, and three is the fact that this boy is his son. So it’s about paternity. It’s about a guy learning to admit he’s a father, that he didn’t realize before.
THR: It’s very hard to summarize this movie since it’s so nuanced. It’s almost “unpitchable.” How would you describe it?
Audiard: I love that. “Unpitchable.” I’ve written scripts with more plot, really written in detail. This story was so unbelievable to begin with — whales, amputation — so I wanted the script to be believable.
We wanted to write a movie where in each scene, we couldn’t predict what would happen next. We wanted it to flow naturally and be very unpredictable. It’s hard to summarize it. I am very happy that it’s hard to pitch since that was the ambition of us modest screenwriters.